Ovechkin, Comcast Checked Into The Boards

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The spectacular goaltending by Montreal’s Jaroslav Halak elated those north of the border. The response wasn’t quite the same in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and perhaps Pittsburgh.

Led by Halak’s heroics, Les Habitants stormed back against Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals, to become the ninth No. 8 team to top a No. 1 in 32 match-ups since the National Hockey League adopted its current playoff format in 1994 — and the first to surmount a 3-1 series deficit.

Halak, who only allowed a goal in each of Games 5, 6 and 7 — the odd-numbered contests were on Washington’s home ice at the Verizon Center — deprived NHL fans of another series showcase between Alex Ovechkin and Sid ‘The Kid’ Crosby’s defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

That would have been the match-up had the Capitals’ defended their President’s Trophy as the NHL’s best regular-season team in which they finished 33 points ahead and scored 101 more goals than the Canadiens. Instead in a dubious hat trick, the Caps crapped out their season for the third consecutive year by dropping a Game 7.

While Alex’s absence and Montreal’s presence will no doubt bolster the audience for Canada’s CBC and Réseau Des Sports, the French-language RSN available to some 2.5 million homes in that nation, it certainly shortchanges Comcast properties (not to mention NHL broadcaster and future linemate NBC). National sports network Versus and RSN Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic both took a Capital loss with the club’s early exit, as did DirecTV Sports’ FSN Pittsburgh, which have the Penguins covered from the regional end of the rink.

Indeed, Versus averaged 552,000 viewers through Sunday night’s NHL postseason telecasts (12 nights), up 24% from 445,000 viewers for the same period last year (final first-round numbers weren’t available at presstime). The Game 6 series-clinching victory by the Penguins over the Ottawa Senators on April 25 was the network’s best thus far with 788,000 viewers. Interest in another battle between The Kid and The Great would have been keen.

Meanwhile, the Caps’ 2-1 heartbreaking loss to the Canadians — Washington outshot Montreal 42 to 16 and Washington owner and former AOL vice chairman emeritus Ted Leosnis certainly looked distraught on Versus’ April 28 telecast — averaged an 8.1 household rating in the Washington DMA, the highest-rated Capitals game in the regional sports network’s history.

All told, the series averaged a 5.3 in the Washington area, the best ever NHL playoff series for the RSN, exceeding the 4.7 for the club’s 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal against the Penguins by 13%.

And talk about icing Nielsen momentum: With the record ratings posted for Game 7, six of the 10 highest-rated Capitals games in CSN Mid-Atlantic history have occurred since February, including the top three.

But don’t cry too loudly for Comcast SportsNet, which still has three other NHL clubs in the playoffs: CSN Philadelphia with the Flyers taking on Boston Bruins (NESN); CSN Chicago with the Blackhawks squaring off against the Vancouver Canucks (Rogers Sportsnet Pacific); and CSN California, showcasing the San Jose Sharks against Hockey Town’s Detroit Red Wings (FSN Detroit).

During the first round, the four CSN RSNs combined on average audience of 635,520 households, up 30% from last season. On the demo side, CSN scored a 25% gain among persons 18 to 49, 26% among adults 25 to 54, 25% among guys 18 to 49 and 28% versus men 25 to 54, according to officials at the sports programmer.

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