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You might have more luck getting Nashville’s famed Loveless Café to share its ultra-secret biscuit recipe than convincing Nashville Predators President and CEO Sean Henry to reveal who will sing the national anthem before the next Stanley Cup home playoff game.

Simply put, Henry loves to build the anticipation. And that’s exactly what he’s done during the Preds’ deep postseason run. In what’s become a growing (and uniquely Nashville) tradition, a different Music City star or group has sung the “Star-Spangled Banner” before each playoff game. The secret singers have delivered memorable performances, helping to work the home crowd into a frenzy before the puck ever drops.

“The temptation is to announce and get people further hyped up,” he said. “I think it’s so much more special when people get surprised.”

The Predators defeated the St. Louis Blues on Sunday to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in the franchise’s history. When they return to the ice at Bridgestone later this month, the Predators will be met with another A-list Nashville performer to sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” But Henry said even the players won’t know who it is.

So far, Preds captain Mike Fisher’s wife Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Little Big TownVince Gill (with his daughters Jenny and Corrina) and Lady Antebellum have sung the National Anthem.

“Being a native Nashvillian, I couldn’t be prouder to be a small part of such a monumental moment for the Preds and for Nashville,” said Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott.

Henry said Underwood reached out to the team and offered to participate and the organization was thrilled when her schedule aligned with the first game of the playoffs.

“That’s who we wanted to start with for so many tangible reasons,” he said. “We also knew if we started with Carrie it might break down barriers for so many other people to say, ‘Yeah, let me do it.’ And that’s how it’s really been.”

There’s no shortage of celebrities offering to step up and sing. The challenge comes with syncing the artists’ schedules with the games. During regular season, Dennis K. Morgan sings the anthem before every home game. With the intensified focus on the Predators games during the playoffs, Henry wants to include the famous names to add another uniquely Nashville layer to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The team’s fans are invested in the anthem singers, too. The organization gets several hundred emails, tweets and texts a day from people offering suggestions and feedback on the singers. When they suggest a singer that ultimately performs during the game, Henry said their audience enjoys taking credit for being right.

Recognizing that singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” might not appeal to every celebrity, the Predators organization built a band stage where artists can jump up and play during intermission, and there’s a towel waver who’s charged with getting fans pumped up right after the anthem is performed. In addition to starting the game with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Henry said Bryan had also been known to wave the towel around on the ice.

Regardless of his responsibilities at Predators games, Bryan said he’s just happy to be there.

“I’m loving it,” he said. “We went (to a game recently) and (my sons) had a dadgum blast.”

Henry said the relationship between hockey and country music is unique to Nashville. Because the singers and players see each other around town, they have a kinship that comes from living and working in Music City.

“All musicians want to be athletes, and all athletes want to be musicians,” he said. “Country is popular everywhere now, but I think the relationship our stars have with our players is because they can relate to each other.”

In addition to the very public performances during games, country music’s love for hockey manifests itself in other ways, too. Many of the singers  including Underwood – use social media to share their support of the team and sometimes their frustration. Henry said on any given game night “there’s probably 200 Grammy Awards” in the room at Bridgestone Arena. Avid Predators fan Dierks Bentley has been to the playoffs, but chose to keep a lower profile during the game. The night the Predators swept the Blackhawks to move on to round two of the playoffs, Bentley popped on stage at Thomas Rhett’s Ascend Amphitheater concert afterwards to share his elation with fans.

“It’s like the perfect Nashville day,” Bentley said from the stage. “You get to watch the Predators sweep the Blackhawks. And, then get to witness one of my best friends in this town having the biggest night of his life. Man, this is a great day for me.”

Henry likens country music’s relationship with the Predators to Hollywood’s love affair with the Los Angeles Lakers. He said just like you never know which celebrity will be court-side at a Lakers game, it’s always a surprise to see who turns up to cheer on the Predators.

“We always say, ‘Only in Smashville,’ and it’s true,” Henry said. “We have special things that happen here.”

Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227, ciwatts@tennessean.com or on Twitter at @CindyNWatts.

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