Series, Nets and Nielsens

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When you talk to network executives about which teams they want to win NHL playoff series from ratings perspectives, they become PC and say they’re just rooting for highly competitive encounters, for Games 6s and 7s.

Well, national carriers and corporate linemates NBC and Versus for the puck sport — not to mention officials at a number of regional sports networks –have had their wishes come true for the most part with the opening-round results of Lord Stanley’s 2011 postseason. But sometimes you might not like the outcomes of those long series heading into the next round.

Only two of the NHL’s eight first-round series ended quickly: the Detroit Red Wings swept the Phoenix Coyotes in what could be their final campaign in the desert before returning to Canada, while Alex Ovechkin and Co. took care of the New York Rangers and DMA No. 1 in five games.

Elsewhere, the Nashville Predators captured their first-ever series win, eliminating the Anaheim Ducks in six games, while the San Jose Sharks iced the other Southern California contender, the Los Angeles Kings in kind. Losing market No. 2 can’t be a good thing, but the Sharks have been skating around near the top of the league for a while, so…no.

Meanwhile, three other series are about to go to a Game 7, while a fourth could be heading to that ultimate denouement if the Montreal Canadiens can prevail in the Bell Centre tonight.

For their parts, Philadelphia and Buffalo will decide matters at the Wells Fargo Center on April 26. The respective interests of owner Comcast and Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia and Madison Square Garden Network and fans in upstate New York aside, the league has to want last year’s finalist Flyers to emerge from a market perspective (No. 4). No disrespect to the memories of Gilbert Perreault,”The Dominator”and Sabres rattlers, but there are many more across the country who either love or loathe Philly’s latest attempt to update the glory seasons of the Broad Street Bullies in 1973-74 and 1974-75 campaigns.

As for Vancouver-Chicago, Canadian club vs. “Original Six” member, be serious. Nobody at a U.S. network is rooting for the Presidents Trophy-winning, but Nielsen-unmeasured Canucks. Dropping the first three games to the team with the best record in the sport, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks’ comeback has been ratings gold for CSN Chicago, with Games 5 and 6, setting team records on the RSN.

The same difference holds true with old rivals Boston and Montreal. North of the border, measuring The Hub and Les Habitants is a different game. Stateside, NESN, which is putting many viewers in the back of its net, and the nationals can’t afford the Bruins to squander this series, like they did last year, coughing up a three-game edge to Philly. Naturally, a Montreal win to force Game 7 in Beantown would be a beautiful thing for ratings, if the Bs were sure to take care of business. But that’s a risky proposition given their 2010 flameout.

Finally in the Wednesday night finale in the Steel City, Tampa against Pittsburgh, with or without the still-concussed Sid The Kid, is another Nielsen no-brainer. The 2009 Stanley Cup champs, Winter Classic poster boys and their ardent fans — just ask Roots Sports about its Nielsens — have it all over the Lightning and Florida’s hockey fanatics. Raise your sticks if you know many of those.

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