Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final faces off tonight from the Rogers Arena at 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC. Will you be watching?
After last year’s big market clash between the “Original Six” Chicago Blackhawks and the love-em, loathe-em Philadelphia Flyers, NBC and now official linemate Versus have the not-Nielsen-friendly Vancouver Canucks against another Original Sixer, the Boston Bruins.
The Canucks had the best record in the league this year, but won’t bring any Canadian home market ratings across the border. Now in their third final, the Canucks, which entered the league in 1970, have yet to bring Lord Stanley’s favorite trophy home. For that matter, no Canadian club has raised the Cup since Les Habitants in 1993.
For their part, the Bruins, whose 1-0 Game 7 triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final spared the league from a Pacific Northwest-Sunbelt matchup, haven’t hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup since the Bobby Orr/Phil Esposito/John Bucyk-led club did in 1972.
As was the case last season when the Blackhawks ended their Cup drought that dated back to 1961, Bruins’ backers will come out in force. How many other hockey fans and casual viewers NBC and Versus will put in their viewing basket remains the question.
It’s certainly a tough act to follow. With the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane netting the Cup clincher during overtime in Game 6, NBC scored a 4.7 U.S. rating and 8.28 million viewers, the highest NHL mark since 1974, when 8.29 million saw the Flyers/Bruins do battle in Game 3 of that year’s final. Kane’s heroics boosted NBC’s average for its four 2010 Stanley Cup contests to 6.1 million, the best for a broadcaster with the puck sport in 13 years and a 9% jump from the Pittsburgh-Detroit rematch of 2009. Meantime, Versus averaged 3.37 million viewers for its coverage of Games 3 and 4, up 5% over the 3.21 million for the 2009 final.
Versus, which has averaged 854,000 viewers for its exclusive and non-exclusive games combined through the first three rounds of this year’s postseason — the most for the NHL on cable since 2002 — presumably carries momentum with the 2.77 million who watched Boston take out Tampa in the aforementioned contest. The May 27 telecast was the most-watched conference final game on cable since Game 7 of the Western Conference final in 2002.
NBC’s coverage of the 2011 NHL playoffs averaged 1.93 million viewers per game, up 2% from 1.89 million last year, going into the final.
Looking back at the three most recent Canadian-U.S. final matchups shows: 3.29 million viewers for the seven-game Tampa-Calgary series in 2004, ABC/ESPN’s last year with the Cup; 2.83 million for the seven-game set in 2006 between Carolina-Edmonton on NBC and the rookie season in the rink for Versus’ forbear, OLN; and 1.76 million on NBC and Versus for the five-game series between Anaheim and Ottawa in 2007.
Hopefully, a compelling six- or seven-game series will lift Canucks-Bruins well past Calgary-Tampa territory.
One thing is certain: This series won’t skate before anywhere near as many viewers as the last time Canucks’ goalie Roberto Luongo tended net in a game of even a higher magnitude at the venue then called Canada Hockey Place, the non-sponsored Olympics moniker for the building which was known as General Motors Place, now named Rogers Arena. Canada’s OT win over the U.S. on Feb. 28, 2010 in the gold medal contest at the Vancouver Games garnered 27.6 million American watchers, the sport’s best total since the “Miracle on Ice” triumph over the Russians and the championship contest against the Finns, as part of ABC’s coverage of the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.