PITTSBURGH -- Imagine getting to watch a Stanley Cup Playoff game outdoors on a giant screen with hundreds of other hockey fans under clear skies with a slight chill in the air.
That was the setting Wednesday outside PPG Paints Arena, where the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets were playing Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series.
I was lucky enough to be covering the game for NHL.com, so I stayed indoors, but it's quite a scene outside, with fans in lawn chairs, face-painting stations, hots dogs and sausage being served and, of course, playoff hockey on the big screen. And if I hadn't been working, I certainly would have been out there.
It's just so cool being here during the playoffs. People are encouraged to wear Penguins jerseys to work. Businesses hang banners and flags to root on the home team. Walking around the city when the Penguins are in the postseason should make any hockey fan feel alive.
It's no different right by the arena in the KeyBank Fan Zone, the area near the screen. It was buzzing before the game Wednesday and it undoubtedly will be again before Game 2 Friday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, FS-O).
I saw fans setting up their lawn chairs as I arrived at the arena at about 3:30 p.m., two hours before the Fan Zone opened and four hours before puck drop. When I went back outside two hours later, the area was already jammed with fans clad in gold and black enjoying everything the Fan Zone has to offer.
What's great about the whole event is it makes fans who don't have tickets feel like they do, even though they can't get inside the arena. The horn is loud enough to hear outside. So is the crowd. And the best part is when the TV cameras show fans by the big screen after the Penguins score a goal, as was the case twice during Pittsburgh's 3-1 win on Wednesday.
All you see is people going crazy. They even lift each other up as if they are the Stanley Cup.
The good news is the forecast for Friday calls for temperatures around 70 degrees and partly cloudy skies, so there should be another big crowd for another big hockey night in Pittsburgh.
Wish you were here.