The first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was one for the ages, replete with upsets, seven-game series and overtimes.
This multi-week stretch of sustained drama gave a bump in the TV ratings to the NBCUniversal networks folks, producing what they described as the best ratings in seven years.
The number, across various television and streaming platforms, was an average total audience delivery of 778,000 viewers, up one percent from last year.
It all sounds good. Now for some context. NBCUniversal had two Game 7 cable broadcasts the past Tuesday on NBC Sports Network and they ranked just sixth and seventh in cable ratings for the coveted 18-49 demographic. Ahead of them were a couple of NBA playoff games, an NBA wrapup show, pro wrestling and, in the unkindest cut of all, an installment of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” on Bravo.
It’s fair to say the NHL may never open the Stanley Cup pursuit with a more compelling combined offering. There were 10 overtime games in the first round, as many as in the entire 2018 playoffs.
Five of the eight winning teams trailed in their series and five of eight winners had worse regular-season records than the losers.
The Tampa Bay Lightning team that ran away with the regular season points chase got swept by a wild-card Columbus team. The points leader from the Western Conference, Calgary, was sidelined in five games by wild-card Colorado.
Three series went to seven games. In one of those, San Jose scored four goals on a five-minute power play resulting from a major penalty in the third period to overcome a 3-0 deficit to Las Vegas, then survived a late game-tying goal in regulation before going on to win in overtime.
“That’s why this is the greatest game in the world,” San Jose forward Logan Couture enthused in a post-game, on-ice interview.
But, incredibly, Couture is in a definite minority with that thought.
Simply put, why isn’t hockey more popular with the viewing public?
It would seem to have the ingredients for success. The game is fluid and fast-moving, along with being physical and, in an era of elongated games in the other major sports, the pace of play is good.
Despite these apparent attractions, hockey languishes fourth in the pursuit of viewers, trailing the unquestioned leader, the NFL, as well as Major League Baseball and the NBA.
The knock on hockey used to be that it was a northern sport.
But now there are teams in desert locales such as Las Vegas and Arizona, as well as three California teams and teams in the deep south.
Another rap is that it’s a game most people never have played, at least not while skating on ice. Maybe they’ve played roller hockey, or road hockey.
But how many people have played organized tackle football?
In particular, how many women have played organized tackle football? Yet various sources say women make up nearly one-half of the NFL fan base.
Formerly the xenophobic among us might have been repulsed that the NHL, despite having most of its franchises in the U.S, was the bastion of Canadian players. But among the current American-born stars in the NHL are Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews, with an abundance of other U.S. players on the rosters.
Jack Hughes, expected to be the first pick overall in the upcoming NHL draft, is yet another American.
Mueller-philes might find the presence of so many Russian stars in the NHL disagreeable, but that’s another story.
Some suggest the rules are too complex. Admittedly, NHL officiating can leave even seasoned fans scratching their heads over what is – or isn’t – called. But the basics of offside and icing are easily understood.
To help the neophytes, lights are lit to celebrate scores and the home team even has its goals celebrated with all manner of horns, ear-splitting music and, in the case of Columbus, the firing of a cannon.
Before the era of high-definition television, hockey could be tough to watch from home.
With improved picture quality and copious replays, not to mention the ability of those with digital feeds to create their own replays, the product is superior.
Still, on a relative basis, few care to watch. And why that is so is an unanswerable question on par with trying to explain the No Canada phenomenon of this being the 26th consecutive season Stanley Cup will not go to a Canada-based team.