Monday night was quite literally a dream come true. Both for myself and an increasingly large fan base, the Nashville Predators' Western Conference championship represented the culmination of a wish that seemed nearly impossible for so many years.
Even as we were watching the events unfolding inside the arena and the championship was becoming more and more of a reality, longtime fans were looking at each other to say "we're actually going to the Stanley Cup Final," as if saying it out loud would make it seem like less of a dream.
As a day-one fan, I've watched the Nashville Predators grow from a fledgling expansion team in a city that barely knew what hockey was into a team four wins away from hockey's ultimate prize in a city that is now the talk of the hockey world. Monday night's Western Conference Final-clinching win over the Anaheim Ducks was witnessed by an overflowing standing-room-only crowd of 17,351 at Bridgestone Arena.
The building itself couldn't contain the outbreak of what the Preds marketing team once lovingly refer to as fang fever in the early days of the team. Multiple watch parties outside the arena drew an estimated crowd of 5,000 - 7,000 people who brought their own lawn chairs just to soak up some of the residual energy from the arena and to watch the broadcast on giant screens.
This was a far cry from a scant ten years ago when attendance was the focus in Nashville but for a different reason. Coincidentally enough, it was May 23, 2007 when it was announced the Predators were being sold and were in serious jeopardy of being moved to Canada because of poor attendance in Nashville. Ten years later, the Predators are the hottest ticket in town. Tickets for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final are going online for anywhere from $650 for one ticket in the upper level to $7,500 for one seat 15 rows from the ice. It's amazing what a little winning will do.
The Predators' on-ice success has shocked everyone outside of the Predators lockerroom. The team was seen in the offseason as a popular pick to make a run at the Stanley Cup following the trade of former Preds captain Shea Weber to Montreal in exchange for P.K. Subban. A lackluster regular season, however, dimmed those hopes.
The Predators snuck into the playoffs with the worst record among teams who made the 16-team tournament. Their less-than-favorable seeding meant they would have the toughest road to the Final, having to face the best team in the regular season in the first round. They have overcome those odds in spectacular fashion, becoming the first team ever to advance to the championship round from the bottom seed.
Monday night's championship win was emotional for all in attendance, especially those of us who have been there for the franchise's entire existence. Finally, for the first time, Bridgestone Arena's rafters will be graced by a championship banner with the ultimate banner just four wins away.
If this is a dream, don't wake me up yet.