The good news is that one of those final two is my beloved Detroit Red Wings. The other team is the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is the matchup the networks may have been praying for all along, because it should result in tremendous ratings. When I say “tremendous ratings” I should also say, “–for hockey.” In Detroit they have the team with the best record in the league, a perennial powerhouse with lots of well-known players and a large, rabid fan base. In Pittsburgh they have the best team in the Eastern Conference, but more importantly, they have Sidney Crosby, aka Sid the Kid, aka The Present and Future Superstar himself. He is only 20 years old, but has already been made team captain of the Penguins. He is one of the best players in the league and should only get better in the years to come, so the sky’s the limit for him. This run to the finals, and maybe all the way to the Stanley Cup, has served as Crosby’s coming out party to the wider world of sports.
Speaking of ratings, the networks that cover the NHL in the U.S. have reported a huge spike in ratings for the playoffs over recent years, much of it directly traceable to fan interest in Mr. Crosby. This has to make the NHL honchos happy, in light of the sorry state of their present domestic TV package. Consider that their primary carrier is the Versus Network, which isn’t carried at all on many cable and satellite systems. Versus will be carrying games 1 and 2 of the finals, with NBC carrying the rest. When the contracts were negotiated a few years ago, NBC wasn’t convinced that the first two games would get enough of a rating to be worth their while, which now translates into a relative windfall for the modest Versus Network, which is probably heading for the highest rating they’ve ever had for one of their broadcasts.
I am fortunate that my cable provider, Comcast, includes Versus with basic service, so I’ve been able to enjoy a great deal of hockey the last few years, particularly during these playoffs when I’ve had hockey on almost every night. My spirits have been rising and falling from day to day with the wins and losses of the Red Wings, but the wins have outweighed the losses to this point, so I’m doing OK. The finals begin on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, so the Wings (and I) have about two more weeks of tension, and hopefully exhilaration, ahead of us. Check your local listings!