NHL Is Gaining Viewers at Amazing Pace

The NHL has released its viewership numbers for the 2010 playoffs thus far and the numbers are awesome.  Even cities whose teams did not make the playoffs, and markets that simply don’t have a team, have seen an increase in viewership. With these numbers in mind, I think it’s safe to say that hockey is back.

Some of the most shocking numbers come from the cities that don’t have an NHL team associated with them. In Birmingham, Alabama and Norfolk, Virginia, viewership on Versus has risen by 200%. Usually you could draw the conclusion that this happened in Birmingham because of the Atlanta Thrashers, but the Thrashers didn’t make the playoffs this year. I’m going to have to guess that viewership was up in both cities because of the closest team to them that did make the playoffs — the Nashville Predators. The Preds took the Chicago Blackhawks to six games in the First Round before being eliminated.

Viewership for the playoff games on NBC has risen in the cities that did make the playoffs, which is expected as more and more people hop on the hockey bandwagon. What blew me away was that viewership was up by 500% in Detroit. Um, let me get this straight: the place that calls itself “Hockeytown, USA” and that had its team make it to the Stanley Cup Finals last year has seen that big of an increase in viewership? I haven’t heard of a major migration to Detroit, so what does that mean? Did “Hockeytown’s” fans not tune in to the Quarterfinals last year? Seems like a very strange occurrence for their fans to not watch the Red Wings last year, especially coming off a Stanley Cup win in 2008.

All I can say is that this awesome news for the NHL — a league that has long been overshadowed by the MLB, NFL and NBA. It’s possible the increase in ratings is due to Team USA’s silver medal performance as Olympics underdogs in Vancouver. Or maybe it’s just that hockey fever has spread across the nation. Either way, I hope that this trend continues.

Here are some of the specific ratings details:

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Blackhawks Looking to Make Roberto Luongo Cry Again

During the 2009 NHL playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks stunned the Vancouver Canucks by beating them in game six of the Western Conference semifinals. It was enough to make a grown man cry — literally. After the 7-5 loss to the Blackhawks, Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo began to cry because he felt he had let his team down. Well, this year they are hoping to stop the waterworks and the Blackhawks in their tracks as the two teams will have a playoff rematch which starts Saturday night.

All I can say is this series is going to be awesome. You have the number two and three seed battling it out in what has become a great rivalry. Luongo isn’t looking to get embarrassed by the boys in red and white again, but the Hawks want to make the gold medal goalie cry again.  The two teams both won two games against each other in the regular season, so if that has any impact on this series the games are going to be close.

I’m sticking with my orginal Stanley Cup winner and saying the Blackhawks will take this series. As long as they don’t try to get fancy with the puck and make it on to Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays, they can play some good old fashion hockey and get past Vancouver.

Blackhawks vs. Canucks preview [SI.com]
Roberto Luongo gets emotional after loosing series vs Hawks [YouTube]

Savard a Hero in Bruins Return

Marc Savard just returned to the Boston Bruins in a big way.  Before Saturday’s game, Savard had not played since March 7th due to a concussion he suffered after being lit up by Matt Cooke with what some considered to be a dirty hit. The hit even prompted the NHL to create a new rule.  With Boston fans noticeably excited to have “Savvy” back prior to the game, he rewarded their loyalty by ripping a shot past Philadelphia goalie Brian Boucher in overtime to give the Bruins a 5-4 victory in Game 1 over the Flyers.

It’s tough not to feel good for Savard whether you’re a Bruins fan or not.  He’s fought extremely hard to be able to get back onto the ice with his teammates and help the Bruins on their quest to a Stanley Cup Finals berth.  The game between the Bruins and Flyers was incredible from start to finish.  Boston led the game 4-2 at one point in the third period but Philadelphia clawed their way back to force overtime.  The Bruins squandered a ton of chances in overtime — with both teams visibly exhausted — but Savard eventually found the back of the net 13:52 into the first OT period.  Yes, I love the Bruins and I’m glad they won for that reason, but Savard’s return was a great story line to watch and he ended it with an exclamation point.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Caps Choked Talk Will now Commence

I’m no longer a betting man, but if I were I know I would have put money on the Capitals winning Game 7 against the Canadiens in D.C. I couldn’t have been more wrong. With a 2-1 win in Game 7, the Habs became the first 8th seeded team to come back from down 3-1 in a seven game series to beat the top seeded team. Yes, the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead becoming the third Presidents’ Trophy winning team to lose in the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs since ’06. Even more befuddling is that they were the best home team in the regular season yet they lost three home games to the Canadiens. Go figure. Without a doubt, all the “Caps choked” and “Alex Ovechkin is not a winner” talk will begin. I definitely disagree with the latter statement.

The reality with this series is that Jaroslav Halak got hot and took over for Montreal. Halak stopped 131 of 134 shots he faced over the last three games. I don’t know which numbers is more ridiculous: the Caps taking 134 shots in three games or Halak stopping all but three of them. Even though the Caps had three chances to close out the series, I put the Game 1 loss partially on coach Bruce Boudreau for starting Jose Theodore in goal instead of Semyon Varlamov who became their man the rest of the series. At the same time, the Habs gave the Caps a break starting Carey Price in net for Game 4.

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Marian Hossa Avoids Suspension for Hit

It was a wild finish in Game 5 of the Blackhawks/Predators series on Saturday. Down 4-3 in the final few minutes, Chicago pulled its goalie but lost its man advantage when Marian Hossa was sent to the box for pushing Dan Hamhuis into the boards. The play was reminiscent of Alex Ovechkin’s push of Brian Campbell that LBS writer Erin Redmond termed dirty. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with Ovechkin’s hit and the result of Campbell’s play confirms my initial belief — Hossa was called for a five minute major for boarding.

NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell decided no suspension was necessary for Hossa despite giving Alex Ovechkin a two-game suspension based on the “repeat offender” concept. Going back to the crazy finish in Chicago, Hossa’s penalty took away the Blackhawks’ man advantage when they pulled their goalie. Despite playing five-on-five hockey, Patrick Kane put in a rebound to tie the game at 4 with 13.6 seconds left. Just over four minutes into overtime, Hossa came out of the penalty box and poked a deflected puck into the net for the game-winner making it 3-2 Chicago in the series. Here’s the infamous video of Marian Hossa’s hit on Dan Hamhuis to see for yourself:

Hawks’ Hossa avoids NHL Suspension [AP/Sporting News]

NHL Playoff Overtimes Should be Capped, Shootout Added

Thursday night, I had the pleasure of watching NHL playoff hockey featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators. The Pens/Sens game was fun and all, but it was a disappointment for me; I was expecting to see the Sharks and Avalanche game. Why was the problem? Oh yeah, the Pittsburgh game went into triple overtime. Granted, it wasn’t the longest overtime in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but still triple O.T. is a bit much.

I don’t really understand why we can’t see a shootout in playoff hockey. They are always exciting, fast-paced, and they get the crowd going. In an instant it can be all over for a team and yeah that part sucks, but that can happen during the overtime period too. These numerous overtimes are resulting in players becoming worn out. That to me leads to boring hockey, and for what purpose?  Why do we change the rules once we enter playoff play?

I do understand that the shootout sort of resembles the whole “one and done” deal of the field goal to win a game in O.T. in NFL games, but before you can get to a shootout during the regular season in the NHL, you have to play a period of overtime first. That seems pretty fair to me. If neither team can score during the extra 20 minutes they are allowed, then let them take it to a shootout. No one knows what the outcome of a shootout will be. The Penguins could have advanced to the conference semis had a shootout been an option, or the hands of fate could have still let the Sens win. This year, the Stanley Cup can really go to anyone. Either way, I think this whole unlimited overtime stuff has to go.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sharks’ Dan Boyle Scores Goal on Own Team in Overtime

Usually I’m taking up for the NHL and hoping their popularity grows. Tonight, I’m relieved hockey’s not as big in the U.S. as some other sports. Had hockey been more popular nationwide, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle might have befallen the same fate as Andres Escobar. Dan Boyle was trying to clear a puck about a minute into overtime of Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal matchup between the Sharks and Avalanche. Unfortunately Boyle cleared the puck straight into his own net, past goalie Evgeni Nabokov. Here’s the video of Dan Boyle’s goal scored on his own net against the Avalanche. Just skip ahead about a minute.

That play is a microcosm of San Jose’s playoff struggles. Despite putting together strong regular seasons, the Sharks have tended to disappoint in the playoffs the last five seasons. Back in ’03-’04 the Sharks actually made the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Flames. The following three years they lost in the Western Conference Semis. Last year marked the ultimate disappointment when the Sharks won the Presidents’ Trophy but lost in the first round to the Ducks. They’re the top seed in the conference for the second straight year and in danger of losing in the first round once again thanks to this blunder. Making matters worse is the Sharks absolutely dominated this game but couldn’t put it away. I’m just happy hockey isn’t more popular otherwise Boyle would be completely ostracized.