Stanley Cup Final brings the crowds to downtown Nashville

Ariana Maia Sawyer, Katherine Scheu, Marissa Lea Gaston and Jaime A Cardenas
The Tennessean
The crowd at Walk of Fame Park in Nashville erupts as the Predators score the first goal in game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final on March 31, 2017 in downtown Nashville.

Thousands of fans made their way down to Lower Broadway on Wednesday night for the second Stanley Cup Final game between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

According to police, about 5,000 people attended the outside watch party, and that number held steady for much of the evening. 

Nestor Llagan, of West Nashville, brought a plush catfish to the party, holding it over a sea of yellow shirts at the Music City Walk of Fame Park. 

"That's Nashville," he said of the catfish fracas in Pittsburgh. "We take something like this and we own it."

Read More:Catch and release: Catfish guy won't face charges in Pittsburgh

At Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, a honky-tonk on Broadway, fans took turns posing for selfies with the Stanley Cup, which had been placed atop the bar. 

Billy Ray Cyrus sings to the Stanley Cup during its visit to the Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, May 31, 2017.

Billy Ray Cyrus then took the stage, surprising fans with a performance of "Tulsa Time" and later ensuring the crowd that if they sing loud enough along with "Achy Breakey Heart," the Predators will take the Cup. 

At Bridgestone Arena, scores of fans who'd been waiting in line began to pour in shortly before the puck dropped in Pittsburgh. 

Nashville Predator fan Eddie Johnston gestures as he gets his picture made in front of the Stanley Cup as it visits Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, May 31, 2017.

Viewing parties outside of Bridgestone are the latest edition to the rapidly growing culture of fandom around the Predators, joining catfish throwing and country music stars singing the anthem.

And previous viewing parties have been massive successes.

Scott DeNicholas has a unique perspective on this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

DeNicholas, a Predators season ticket holder, was originally a Penguins fan until he moved to Nashville in 2010.

Standing toward the back of the park, wearing a personalized team jersey that read “Seventhman” on the back, DeNicholas reminisced about his first years in Nashville.

He said going to games was fun.

“You don’t see hockey in the South," he said. "And down here, it was cool at that time.”

Those weren’t good years good for the team, however. The sport was still struggling to find an audience in this market. It wasn’t until 2014, he says, when things started to turn. That also happens to be the year DeNicholas became a season ticket holder.

“And it’s been amazing to watch them go from there to now in the finals,” he said. “I didn’t think it would happen this fast.”

He said he’s never seen a city embrace a team the way Nashville has the Predators. Motioning to the crowd, he called events like the outdoor viewing party “incredible.”

DeNicholas has tickets for Saturday's Game 3 and Monday’s Game 4. He also has tickets for Game 6, if needed.

When the Predators beat the Ducks to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, we was inside the arena sitting in Section 329.

“It gives me chills thinking about it," he said. "It was amazing.”

DeNicholas said he's still a Steelers fan but that Nashville's hockey team "stole my heart."

But as the Penguins took a quick 4-1 lead in the third quarter — the same score the game ended with — fans began peeling off and the crowds were noticeably deflated. 

The two teams resume play in Nashville on Saturday for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Louis Bougrat said the second half of the game was hard to watch.

"We’re still a great team," he said. "That’s the worst period we’ve ever played."

Longtime fan Dan Ferrell, 63, was more optimistic.

"I'm not disappointed in our guys at all," he said. "And (they've) gone further than they ever have before."