This, like Vancouver, is a nervous city, but for decidedly different reasons.
Early Sunday morning, thunderstorms rolled through again, bringing rain and reminders that, in a week in which storms and tornadoes killed 34 in Tennessee alone, Sunday also marked the one-year anniversary of the Big Flood, when 24 lives were lost, 54 counties declared disaster areas and the Cumberland River threatened even to swallow the Grand Ole Opry stage.
The city slogan is "Nashville Rising" - with no possible connection to the dubious Liberal campaign in Canada - and it is all about overcoming adversity, tackling the seemingly impossible and pulling it off.
Much as the Predators are trying to do in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They landed here late Sunday afternoon to a boisterous, cheering crowd holding homemade signs - "Luongo Couldn't Stop a Nose Bleed" - and a bit of unspoken relief that they were carrying home with them one of hockey's sacred "splits." They had lost one and won one in Vancouver, putting the onus on the Canucks to win one of the four required victories in the Predators' rink. Or, put another way, if the Predators win only their remaining home games, they win the series against the NHL's top regular-season team.
That significant victory came courtesy of Saturday's remarkable double-overtime game in Vancouver, yet the Predators remain happily the underdogs, simply because they do not have any Sedins on forward or a goaltender in net with as well-known a name as Olympic champion Roberto Luongo.
That is important here in the American drawl, where hockey is not particularly well known but victory in anything is cause for widespread celebration. As the late George Steinbrenner, who knew something about selling baseball, used to say, don't talk about tradition but about what sells - "and what the American people like is to think the underdog still has a chance."
Double that sentiment in Nashville, where the only editorial in the weekend Tennessean says, "just remember that the human spirit is a force of nature, too."
That spirit was out to welcome the team back and will be out in force Tuesday night when Game 3 of this best-of-seven series gets under way. "There's only 17,000 people but it's really loud," said forward Mike Fisher, who came to the Predators from the Ottawa Senators in February. "It's definitely comparable to playing in a Canadian market."
The Predators have a relatively unknown goaltender named Pekka Rinne, who plays the position in part like a shortstop, in part like a break dancer, but effectively enough to have flummoxed the vaunted attack of the Canucks and given him a nomination for the Vézina Trophy as the league's best goaltender.
Rinne's overtime save on Vancouver's Kevin Bieska may well turn out to be the signature save of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and they are not even half over.
"Unbelievable," Fisher added. "I haven't seen a game like that from a goaltender in a long time, especially in overtime." Nor has anyone.
"It felt good," Rinne said. "It was just one of those nights when you seem to … I don't know, whatever you do you feel like you're doing the right thing. Pucks seemed to hit me. I don't know what to say. Hopefully I can keep it going."
But Rinne is not all they have. They have defenceman Shea Weber, who is nominated for the Norris Trophy for the first time and who can fire a puck so hard he is already legend for blasting one through the German net in the Vancouver Winter Games. They have Fisher and a cast of little-known stalwarts who play the game as well as teams far, far more recognizable. And they have a coach, Barry Trotz, who has just been nominated for a second straight season as NHL coach of the year. This, it turns out, is his first true test in the playoffs, the first time the Predators have moved beyond the opening round in their brief history.
Game 1 - a 1-0 loss to the Canucks - had Trotz thinking, however, that success might be short-lived. "I didn't sleep very well," he said as the charter plane unloaded. "Because, to me, it wasn't Predator hockey. There wasn't that resilience. There wasn't that conviction that we usually play with. We tried to figure it out and we just said, 'Let's drop it, just let it go.' We corrected and changed a couple of things to help us have some success."
Whatever tweaks were involved, they worked, though nothing Trotz did could have doused Rinne with the magic dust he held during overtime.
"More than anything," Trotz said of the remarkable victory in Game 2, "everybody's conviction level and effort level was Predator level. And when it's like that, we can beat anybody in the league. We find a way to win. That's been our calling card all year long - we just find a way.
"The good thing is you know you can win in Vancouver, you know we can win on the road, and we know we can win at home, so I'm not going to put too much into it.
"We just got to win the next game."Report Typo/Error
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