The Los Angeles Kings skate into the Prudential Center in Newark tonight looking to run their undefeated road playoff skein to nine games and gain a glove up on hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.
NBC will face off Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the New Jersey Devils and Kings at 8 p.m. (ET), with some Nielsen momentum on its side, not to mention DMAs. No. 1 and No. 2 with this matchup. NBC will also televise Game 2, as well as fifth, sixth and seventh contests, if necessary. NBC Sports Network will carry Game 3 and 4 action.
Through a dozen games over the first three rounds, NBC's NHL playoff coverage has averaged 2.2 million viewers, up 16% from last year's 1.9 million average and the best for the pro puck sport since ABC netted a 2.3 mark in 2002, according to Nielsen data. Among males 18 to 49, the Peacock has scored 33% amelioration to a 1.2 rating against that group.
To date, NBC's top two telecasts came on April 22 with a pair of Game 6 quarterfinal contests: Boston-Washington, an overtime affair, tallied 3.52 million viewers, while the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh matchup that day played before 3.10 million watchers on average.
For its part, NBC Sports Network has averaged 994,000 viewers over 50 games, also a 16% uptick from last year, when the service was still known as Versus, and the top delivery for a single NHL playoff cable network since ESPN lit the Nielsen lamp with 1.15 million viewers in 2002.
Through the first three rounds, NBC Sports Network has skated with 422,000 men 18 to 49 on average, 20% more than 353,000 at a similar stage in the 2011 playoffs.
Thus far, the national cable service's most-watched games both came from the New York Rangers-Washington second-round series: Game 3 on May 2, a triple OT contest, registered 1.85 million viewers. That was 17,000 more than the decisive seventh game on May 12, which connected with 1.68 million.
During the first of its 10-year, $1.9 billion rights deal with the NHL, NBCUniversal has garnered a total audience of 43.2 million watchers over 75 games on NBC, NBC Sports Network and CNBC (13 telecasts), a 13% advance from 38.1 million last postseason, according to officials at the programmer.
With an average audience of 1.09 million viewers on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, the 2012 NHL playoffs now stand as the most-watched since 1997, when Fox, ESPN and ESPN2 delivered 1.24 million watchers on average.
On the surface, the bicoastal matchup of teams from the top two markets should have solid appeal, albeit perhaps a bit less than if New Jersey's cross-Hudson rivals, the Rangers, had slain the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, the sixth-seed took out the top-seeded Broadway Blueshirts in six games.
In addition to their postseason delivery versus the Capitals, the Rangers averaged a 0.99 household rating in the New York DMA on MSG this past regular season, up 36% from the 2010-11 campaign. Moreover, during its Game 7 coverage of the Rangers' opening series win against the Ottawa Senators on April 26, MSG notched a 5.7 household rating in the New York DMA, its top Rangers telecast since its Game 7 presentation of the Stanley Cup Final on June 14, 1994, when the Rangers ended a 54-year Cup drought, and scored a 16.2 rating.
For their part, Martin Brodeuer, Ilya Kovalchuk and the rest of the Devils pulled in a 0.34 regular-season mark on sister regional sports network MSG +, with the club's Game 7 win on April 26 in the first round of the playoff against the Florida Panthers earning a 1.7 New York DMA rating, translating into 126,000 households. That was the highest-rated Devils telecast on an RSN since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on May 7, 2001, which drew 239,000 households.
Led by Dustin Brown and Jonathat Quick, the eighth-seeded Kings, who beat the Presidents' Trophy winner Vancouver Canucks and last year's finalist in the opening round, before skating past St. Louis and Phoenix to reach the championship chapter, averaged a 0.37 rating in the LA DMA on FS West during the 2010-11 regular season.
The LA-NJ series marks the lowest-seeded Stanley Cup Final matchup since the NHL adapted its current conference-based format with the 1993-94 season.
Last year's Final featured the Boston Bruins capturing the Cup in Game 7 against Vancouver. Despite the absence of hometown Nielsens from the Canadian city, NBC's June 15 telecast of the decisive game garnered 8.54 million watchers, the largest NHL audience since the Peacock scored with 9.41 million watchers for Game 6 between Montreal and Chicago on May 10, 1973, according to Nielsen data.
NBC's five-game audience -- Games 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 -- averaged a 3.1 rating and 5.31 million watchers, the best for a U.S. network Stanley Cup Final featuring a Canadian team in 38 years, since the 6.8 and 7.4 million for three games during the aforementioned Canadians-Blackhawks series in 1973.
The 2011 Stanley Cup Final -- Games 3 and 4 were on Versus -- averaged a 1.6 U.S. rating and 2.7 million viewers, down from a 1.9 rating and nearly 3.4 million watchers for the 2010 Cup Final won by Chicago over Philadelphia. Nevertheless, Bruins-Canucks surpassed the 2.2 rating and 3.3 million watchers for ABC and ESPN's coverage of the 2004 series between Tampa Bay and Calgary by 39% in becoming the most-watched combined network/cable Stanley Cup Final involving a team from north of the border.