Nashville is a non-traditional hockey market, and that’s a great thing

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NASHVILLE — As soon as we got here, it was easy to tell the Predators were in the Stanley Cup Final.

The first “Stand With Us” banner we saw was at the airport. After that, we saw them everywhere. Hanging from the sides of buildings. Out front of the honky tonks. The slogan was even written on our restaurant checks.

So this was the Smashville we’d heard so much about.

To learn more, we needed to talk to a local.

Adam Vingan is the Predators beat writer for The Tennessean newspaper. In 2015, he moved from Washington, D.C., where he’d covered Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals for a number of years. Upon taking the job in Nashville, he wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.

“In a lot of ways, I was pleasantly surprised,” Vingan told PHT. “I knew they had a very passionate fan base. But the atmosphere, I remember being awed by how good it was, the first game that I covered. And it’s grown from there.”

If you’ve never been — and if you haven’t, you really should — Nashville is not a very big city. It’s definitely growing, as evidenced by all the construction and cranes. But at last count, its metro population was just under two million, ranking 36th in the United States, barely ahead of Virginia Beach.

Best known for its music scene, Nashville hasn’t enjoyed much sporting success. The NFL’s Titans have never won a Super Bowl. In fact they haven’t been to the playoffs in almost a decade. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is hardly an SEC power in basketball or football.

Perhaps that’s why the Preds’ run has been such a big deal here.

“There’s always been an undercurrent of passion and interest in this team in this city,” said Vingan. “Of course, it’s a football-focused town, and a football-focused region in the United States. Football will always rule.

“But as the playoffs have continued, and the Predators have moved on in each round — especially starting with the sweep of Chicago — it’s grown exponentially to the fact you see it whenever you walk around town. You see the flags, you see the people wearing the hats. It’s now everyday conversation, like at the grocery store or among friends at restaurants. I overhear it all the time. ‘Did you see what the Predators are doing? What do you think about the Predators?'”

Game 3 against the Penguins goes Saturday at Bridgestone Arena. Following two disappointing results in Pittsburgh, the Predators are hoping their boisterous fans can help close a 2-0 series deficit.

Vingan said the atmosphere is unlike anything he’s ever seen in an NHL rink.

“I’m not a big college football fan, but living in this area I’ve now come to learn about SEC football,” he said. “It’s a very collegiate crowd. Everyone’s wearing the same color. There’s a lot of chants that they go through. Even when the PA announcer, Paul McCann, says there’s one minute left in the period, they say, ‘Thanks, Paul!’

“I think it does feel like you’re watching an SEC football game. It’s like you strapped skates onto the cleats of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Tennessee Volunteers. That’s what makes this market so great.

“I know that there are teams that find it insulting to be called a non-traditional market. But I think that’s what makes Nashville unique. Because it is non-traditional. You couldn’t take this environment and put it in Toronto or Montreal or New York or Boston. It only works here.”

The Buzzer: Sharks dominate at MSG; Leafs edge Kings

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Player of the Night: Martin Jones, San Jose Sharks

The Sharks netminder stood tall Monday night during a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers. Jones stopped 33 shots as San Jose won their fourth consecutive game. Logan Couture recorded two points, which included his 200th career NHL assist. He now has six goals and nine points in four games.

Highlight of the Night:

Lovely shorthanded finish here by Trevor Lewis to help the Los Angeles Kings cut the Toronto Maple Leafs lead to 3-2 late in their game:

MISC:

• Congrats to Tim Heed for scoring his first NHL goal.

• New York’s power play failed on all six opportunities.

• The Rangers have won only twice in eight home games this season.

Frederik Andersen stopped 36 shots and Patrick Marleau recorded his fourth of the year as the Maple Leafs edged the Kings 3-2.

• Marleau’s goal stood as the game-winner and was the 99th of his career, good for eighth all-time.

• A weird sequence in the first period saw Jonathan Quick take an elbow to the head and be briefly forced from the game due to a concussion spotter’s call. Oddly, it took several minutes for Quick to be removed from the game, and then he was only off the ice for whistle.

Factoid of the Night: 

Monday’s scores:

San Jose 4, New York Rangers 1

Toronto 3, Los Angeles 2

Ducks’ Patrick Eaves diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome

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Patrick Eaves has only played two games for the Anaheim Ducks this season, and the team updated his situation on Monday.

Eaves, who hasn’t played since Oct. 13, spent the weekend at a local hospital after being diagnosed with what medical personnel believe to be Guillain-Barré syndrome which, according to the Ducks, is “a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.”

The Ducks say the 33-year-old Eaves was feeling weak last week and after seeing specialists, was admitted to the intensive care unit at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, California. Over the weekend he was stabilized and moved out of ICU. He’s expected to make a full recovery, though no timetable for a return has been given.

“I want to thank Dr. Robert Watkins Sr. and Dr. Danny Benmoshe for their early diagnosis of my condition, along with the proactive Ducks medical team,” Eaves said in a statement. “Thanks to them and the incredible nurses at Hoag Hospital, I’m on the road to recovery. I’ve received tremendous amount of support over the last few days, most importantly from my family, friends and teammates. I’m determined to fully overcome this and return to the ice as soon as possible.”

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website, Guillain-Barré syndrome can affect someone at any age and is diagnosed in “only about one person in 100,000.” It’s still unknown how the disease manifests in those affected. William “Refrigerator” Perry and Danny Wuerffel are among those who battled it.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Tale of 2 brothers: 1 victim, 1 rescuer in Vegas shooting

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nicholas and Anthony Robone are about as close as two brothers can be.

They are the only two kids in their family, born and raised in Las Vegas. Nick and Tony share a passion for ice hockey, and as boys used their tape-wrapped hockey sticks to knock a puck around the street.

Tony followed Nick in becoming a defenseman, and joined him as a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. A year ago, they pooled their money to buy the three-bedroom house they share.

So it wasn’t unusual that they were together at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on Oct. 1 when a gunman opened fire on the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, striking Nick, 28, in the upper chest and forcing firefighter and paramedic Tony, 25, into the role of his big brother’s rescuer.

Nick was at the country music festival with a three-day pass his parents gave him for his September birthday. ”It was going to be a fun night to hang out,” he said.

Tony, with the Henderson County Fire Department, couldn’t join his brother the first two days, but arrived at the festival grounds at about 8:30 p.m. on the final night after attending the Vegas Golden Knights professional hockey game. The brothers were with a few friends in the middle of the main stage area.

County music singer Jason Aldean was just a few songs into his set when the popping sounds started after 10 p.m. and Nick felt a piercing pain in his left side. A bullet had entered his chest right above his heart and lung, and traveled down to his side muscle, missing organs but badly bruising the lung.

Tony treated Nick’s wound as round after round of gunfire rained down on the panicked crowd. In the end, 58 people died. Hundreds were injured in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Tony told a news conference two days after the shooting that he and their friend Billy Tufano, an emergency medical technician, helped get Nick to the east side of the stage where they hid behind a police car. They later continued farther east, and eventually got Nick into an ambulance.

Critically injured, Nick was in surgery for four hours, in intensive care at Sunrise Hospital for five days, and released after 10 days.

Three weeks after the shooting, Nick is home recovering. He gets around pretty well on his own, he said in a telephone interview last week. He’s expected to make a full recovery.

”There won’t be any real rehab to speak off,” he said. ”Just walk around a few times a day,” do some regular breathing exercises and eat a good diet.

Nick has credited quick attention by his brother and friends at the concert for saving his life. Tony ”NEVER left my side,” he said in a tweet.

Doctors have estimated it will be six to eight weeks before he can return to work, he said.

Nick said he’s received unconditional support from Topgolf, an entertainment property with a driving range and restaurants where he’s employed in marketing. He also is an assistant ice hockey coach at his alma mater, where the Rebels hockey team and its fans have rallied around him.

With the VegasStrong hashtag scrawled on signs throughout the City National Arena, the ”Skatin’ Rebels” won their home game 8-0 in Nick’s honor the Friday after the massacre. A few days later, he felt well enough to visit the team and promise, ”I’ll be back.”

”My brother is the toughest guy I know,” Tony said. ”And I think the amount of support from the community, from the hockey community, from the firefighter community, it just represents and reflects the kind of guy he is.”

The feeling is mutual. ”My brother is a really great guy,” Nick said.

Report: Wild’s Parise considering back surgery

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The Minnesota Wild host the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, which could be the same day forward Zach Parise undergoes surgery, according to Michael Russo of The Athletic.

Per that report, Parise is contemplating back surgery that would sideline the 33-year-old forward — who still hasn’t played a game this season — for up to two months.

Parise missed the beginning of training camp with a back injury, but had started to skate with the team before suffering a setback and leaving the ice during a session last week. At the time, general manager Chuck Fletcher was hopeful that this setback was only a short-term issue.

“We’ll see what it means. I don’t want to speculate, but it would have been better if he could have finished the practice, but he didn’t, so we’ll see how he feels,” said Fletcher last week.

“I try not to get too up or down and things like that. You feel badly for Zach, he’s working hard and he’s in great shape, and hopefully this is just a short-term setback, if it even is a setback. We’ll find out more later on, but I’m sure it’s very frustrating for him.”

This also surfaced out of Minnesota this afternoon, following the initial report:

The Wild are about to begin a six-game home stand, which gets underway Tuesday when they host the Canucks.

With a 2-2-2 record through six games to begin the season, Minnesota has experienced a disastrous list of injuries so far. Not only has Parise not yet made his debut, but Charlie Coyle (right fibula fracture) and Nino Niederreiter are still listed on injured reserve, and Mikael Granlund hasn’t played since the season opener back on Oct. 5.

The news surrounding Granlund is certainly more positive. He skated again on Monday and coach Bruce Boudreau was hopeful that the 25-year-old winger, who had a breakout 2016-17 season, could be ready to go versus the Canucks.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.