06/04/2017

Good times in Nashville for Game 3

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

NASHVILLE -- Alan Jackson stands onstage in the heart of Music City in boots, jeans, a cowboy hat and, of course, a Nashville Predators T-shirt.

More than 50,000 people jam Broadway before him, not only filling the street, but the sidewalks and the balconies of the honky-tonks, stretching from Bridgestone Arena for blocks toward the Cumberland River.

"Let's go, Predators!" the fans chant.

"Yeah," Jackson says in his Southern drawl. "I got it right here on the guitar."

On the front, it has Predators logos. He flips it over. On the back, it has "GO PREDS." He flips it back and starts to play his song "Good Time" as the fans cheer in the sun, tourists and locals, young and old. A grandfather in a Pekka Rinne jersey puts a grandson in a Filip Forsberg jersey on his shoulders. He bounces to the beat. The kid claps.

"Yeah, I've been workin' all week/ And I'm tired and I don't wanna sleep/ I wanna have fun/ It's time for a good time."

That's what it's all about, a good time, and that's what this is, the first time the Stanley Cup Final has been played in Nashville. It doesn't matter where you are -- the last row of the arena, the plaza outside, the streets, the honky-tonks -- it's a party from start to finish of the Predators' 5-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3.

Come along, y'all.

2:30 p.m. CT. The plaza.

People are always coming to Nashville for a good time. It is one of the most popular places in the United States for bachelorette parties. So here we are hours before faceoff, and a bride-to-be is climbing on top of an old car. Her shirt says, "Nash BASH." She's holding a sledgehammer.

Five bucks gets you one hit of the Predators' traditional "Smash Car," painted in the colors of the opposing team each series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Ten bucks gets you three. Twenty gets you three and a cowboy hat.

Maureen Campbell, 29, didn't plan her bachelorette party around the Final. But turns out she's from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a Philadelphia Flyers fan. When in Rome …

3 p.m. CT. The stage.

Jackson, a Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, sits for an interview with NHL Network within sight of AJ's Good Time Bar, his new place on the strip. He is asked why so many huge country music stars have embraced the Predators.

"We all just feel obligated because Carrie Underwood's husband's on there," he says with a laugh, referring to Predators captain Mike Fisher. "Nah, really, all the country music artists that I know, most of them are sports fans. The ones that live here are such fans of Nashville the city. So it's only obvious that we support the [NFL's Tennessee] Titans and the Predators and everybody. It's been a fun ride."

Jackson didn't follow hockey growing up in Georgia. But he moved to Nashville, and when his three daughters were in school, one was the same age as the daughter of Barry Trotz, the coach of the Predators at the time. Trotz invited him to some games. What will it be like if the Predators win the Cup?

"I'd be scared to be down here," Jackson says. "It's going to be crazy. … If they bring that Cup home, it's going to be nonstop."

4:50 p.m. CT. Broadway.

Jackson takes the stage for a 45-minute pregame concert.

"How y'all doin', Nashville?" he asks. "Aw, I guess this is Smashville tonight, right?"

Right. He plays his classics like "Gone Country," "Summertime Blues" and "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere." He flicks guitar picks and tosses T-shirts to the crowd. At some points, he squints and stares into the distance.

"I can't even hardly see y'all back there, all the way to the river," he says.

Chrissi Dees, 39, of Knoxville is in the front in a Viktor Arvidsson T-shirt and a Predators hat. She got hooked on hockey as a student at Belmont University.

"I've been a fan since the team even had a name," she says. "This has been 18 years in the making. I've been on this train through the ups and downs, and here we are."

She looks around.

"This is absolutely just astonishing," she says. She's staying to watch the game on the big screen.

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