It was a heckuva game last night in Nashville, as the Predators edged the Ducks 5-4 in OT, with Steve Sullivan scoring the winner off a nice feed from Kimmo Timonen. The only downside really was the lackluster attendance - 11,821, lowest of the season so far.
For a casual fan, this one had everything. Two top teams, a couple spirited fights (including the 5'9" Jordan Tootoo in a nice effort against 6'2" Shane O'Brien), and plenty of offense. Every time the Preds started to pull away, the Ducks hung in there. Ex-Duck Paul Kariya opened the scoring off a wonderful crossing pass from Martin Erat, but only seconds later, Chris Kunitz evened things up for Anaheim after a breakaway pass that reminded me of too many college days spent playing Sega Genesis NHL. Despite opening up a two-goal lead by the end of the first, the league-leading Ducks came back to even the score at 4-4 towards the end of the 2nd, setting up a hard-fought 3rd that got the crowd's attention.
While there were too many empty seats, the fans that were there kept up their end of the bargain, particularly "Cell Block 303", the 100% jam-packed section in the upper bowl that leads the way for the rest of the crowd. Throughout the 3rd period, every chance, every hit, every big save brought roars and jeers as the action flowed back and forth. The winning goal, which saw Timonen take a pass as he came in down the right side, carry the puck behind the net on his backhand and feed it into the slot for a wide-open Sullivan, capped things off and sent the throng home happy (and hopefully telling thier friends today what a great time they had).
I'm convinced that hockey can work long-term here in Nashville, but only if the bandwagon gets rolling. Now that football season is over here in Middle Tennessee, there's no excuse for the local media to ignore this championship-contender anymore (local sports radio seems preoccupied with college football 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, followed by the NFL). We'll see how things go over the next couple months, and whether excitement starts to build as the Preds aim for their first Central Division title, and the #1 seed in the West.