Another great report to share, this one from a Preds fan in Chicago! - Dirk
I was there. The first road playoff victory in Predator history, and I was there. Years from now, thousands of others will make the same claim, but I can tell you, there were probably a dozen total Preds fans in the United Center last night. The place was a sea of red and black.
This was my first game at the United Center since the Blackhawks' Renaissance. Previously, I would go to Hawks games against the Predators and wonder what the "Original Six" fuss was about. The United Center seats 22,000+, and there would usually be about 5000 at games against the Predators (not counting all the no-shows). Not today. No empty seats anywhere.
The crowd was electric. If you haven't seen how Blackhawk fans cheer during the national anthem in person, you can't grasp how loud and passionate and intimidating it can be. It's awesome (in the original meeting of the word).
I got no static for being a foreigner in their midst. (I've Nashville- born and -bred, but I've lived in the Chicago suburbs for eight years. I've seen more Preds games at the United Center than at the Bridgestone Arena.) There were good-natured jibes: "Who let you in?" "Are you really from Nashville?" "If you sing that 'I like it, I love it' one more time, I'll throw you off the railing" Typical stuff. One drunk got profane and threathened to help me "hang out with McNair", but the other fans hushed him up. Chicago fans aren't Philly fans, although if the Preds keep playing like they did yesterday, that friendly rivalry may not last much longer...
On to the game itself. Dirk did a great recap, so I'll focus more on the feel in the arena.
From my seat up in 323, the Preds looked on their heels at the very onset of the game. The Hawks surged forward, bouyed by the fans, causing Klein's hooking penalty. The ensuing PK was huge for the Preds. You could feel the emotion starting to sag in the arena -- this wasn't going according to plan. The back-and-forth in the first period started to move in the Preds' favor, but the crowd was fired up by the Hossa hit on Hornqvist. Rinne looked tough.
In the second, the Hawks turned it up. The goaltending interference call was roundly booed by the Chicago faithful, and Rinne did look for be WAY outside the crease. Of course, the refs evened it out with the slashing call on Franson. I could hear the "clank" of Sharp hitting the post on the ensuing power play from the far end of the arena. Kane's goal a few minutes later set the crowd ablaze. With the Preds' having so few shots in the second and the Hawks looking to have established their gameplan, the Chicago crowd was on fire.
Then came the third. Dumont dumped a shot to the net, and boom. Neimi missed it. I scrreeamed like a little girl, sang a little "I like it, I love it", but the rest of the arena was silent as the grave. Everything changed with that goal. The fans and their team started getting tense. The Chicago fatalism took over. Chicago fans are the most pessimistic I've ever encountered. When you consider how few championships per season they have in baseball, football, and hockey, you can start to understand it. They expect to lose. So when a team is halfway good, they pile unheard-of pressure on that team to win (cf Cubs recently, Bears occasionally, Hawks this year). But they know that there won't be a parade down State Street; there so rarely are.
Everyone ins the arena knew the second goal was coming. The Preds hung the Hawks up at the blue line, the gameplan was executed perfectly. The frustration was palpable. And when they pulled Niemi, the fans were screaming their heads off, but in desparation, not support. Smithson's empty netter confirmed it, but the Hawks fans knew they had lost the game well before that.
Still, as I whooped and hollered, no one threw a beer at me (as Minnesota fans have done), no one threatened me. One guy in front of me said his brother lives in Brentwood and will be at Game 3; hopefully, he'll be the only red in a sea of blue and gold...