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


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: Night of the goalies

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Players of the Night:

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning needed Vasilevskiy to play like the NHL All-Star that he is and that’s exactly what he gave them, stopping 40 shots to help the Lightning to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks. The win was important for Tampa, who regained the top spot in the NHL standings and ended a three-game slide in the process. Vasilevskiy’s league-leading seventh shutout of the season ties a franchise record.

Petr Mrazek, Detroit Red Wings: Mrazek fielded 37 shots from the New Jersey Devils on Monday night and handled each and every one of them for his second shutout in as many starts.

Nick Cousins, Arizona Coyotes: Cousins got the ball rolling for the Desert Dogs in the first period, giving them a 1-0 lead. After the Islanders tied the game in the third, Cousins put the final stamp on the game with a goal 2:21 into overtime to give Arizona their second straight win.

Comeback of the Night:

Jason Zucker, Minnesota Wild: Zucker got drilled in the head with a slap shot in the first period and had to be helped off the ice. Miraculously, Zucker returned a short time later and went on to score the game-winning goal at the 4:59 mark of the third period, breaking a 1-1 tie in the Wild’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.

Highlights of the Night:

Granlund and Dumba:

Mrazek made plenty of saves on Monday and perhaps none better than this one (Brian Boyle‘s reaction is priceless):

Ottawa Senators fans will like this, even if the end result wasn’t great:

Auston Matthews had the celebration of the night:

Factoids of the Night:


Avalanche 4, Maple Leafs 2

Red Wings 3, Devils 0

Wild 3, Senators 1

Lightning 2, Blackhawks 0

Sabres 2, Flames 1 (OT)

Coyotes 3, Islanders 2 (OT)

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Lightning end three-game skid with 2-0 win over Blackhawks

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Jon Cooper called declared that his team was “out of sync” prior to Monday night’s game in Chicago.

It’s three words that haven’t been used at all this season to describe the Tampa Bay Lightning who, up until Sunday, was known as the best team in the NHL.

The Lightning came into Monday night nursing a three-game losing streak, another foreign concept for a team saw four of its players elected to the NHL’s All-Star Game this coming weekend.

But just as quickly as they dropped out of the top spot in the NHL — the Vegas Golden Knights assumed that throne for 24 hours after a win on Sunday night — the Lightning snatched it back in a 2-0 triumph over the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City on Monday.

For a team that perhaps forgot how to play with one another, they looked comfortable in each other’s company against the Blackhawks.

The game was tight for the most part, and it took the Blackhawks being caught napping shorthanded to break a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period as Chris Kunitz took advantage of a defensive mishap. 

Jake Dotchin’s wrister sailed wide, but Kunitz was allowed to waltz behind the net, pick up the loose puck and put it behind Jeff Glass, nearly untouched through the whole process.

The NHL’s top goalie once again lived up to the distinction as Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside all 40 shots that came his way.

The Blackhawks put up 10 or more shots in each of the game’s three periods, including 17 in the second frame. But the All-Star netminder played and exceptional game, including stopping 10 out of 10 on the power play to keep Chicago 0-for-6 on the power play.

Yanni Gourde sealed the game late in the third with a blast to make it 2-0.

It’s a win Tampa needed, especially after finding out they’ll miss forward Ondrej Palat indefinitely.

The struggles continued for the Blackhawks, meanwhile.

Chicago has now been shutout twice in their past three games and is on a three-game skid with a 4-5-1 record in their past 10.

The Lightning could afford their losing streak. They’ve earned an opportunity to slide a little bit.

For the Blackhawks, another loss means another chance missed trying to survive in a deeply competitive Central Division.

The Blackhawks are hanging by a thread and time is running out quickly.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Colorado Avalanche’s win streak hits double digits

Associated Press

The streak is now in double digits.

The Colorado Avalanche won their 10th straight game on Monday night, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Yes, that’s 10 wins by the team that ended last season with an NHL-worst 48 points.

Hockey is wonderful, isn’t it?

The Avalanche have been pretty darn good during that streak, outscoring opponents 41-16 during that span. Scoring four goals per game on average will win you more than it won’t.

And the Avs have had success on the back end. Jonathan Bernier has been completely lights out during the streak. He is on a streak of his own with nine straight wins, becoming the third netminder in franchise history to win nine in a row after Stephane Fiset (9) and Patrick Roy (11).

Colorado’s streak is also an NHL-best this season and it’s the second longest streak in Avs history (they won 12 straight during the 1998-99 season).

The Avs are sitting on 57 points, good for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.