By Sarah Kwak, SI.com
For all the talk about the NHL making monster strides on the ratings landscape, which is true to a certain extent, let's just consider that Monday night's 3 OT thriller was still beaten out in the 8 p.m., 9 p.m., and 10 p.m. slots by reruns of Bones, House and CSI: Miami, respectively. The 4.3 overnight rating and 8 share was the best a Stanley Cup Finals Game 5 has seen since 2002, but that's a little like bragging about being the thinnest kid at fat camp.
Still, relatively speaking, the NHL has seen some pretty encouraging numbers this postseason. Versus, the NHL's subterranean cable partner, has seen some considerable success with its playoff coverage; Game 2 of the Final garnered the highest rating the network has ever seen, meaning that over 2.5 million people, in fact, found Versus and tuned into the 3-0 Detroit win. But for a network that features bass fishing and cage fighting as its normal TV fare, the niche network still isn't pulling in the same kind of numbers that, say, ESPN would.
On NBC, the NHL is seeing some impressive stats. Saturday's Game 4, won by Detroit 2-1, also took prime time, the first time an NHL broadcast has won a night since June 9, 2001. It earned a 2.3/5 national rating and among adults 18-34 and the key adult-male demographics, it was the highest-rated program of the night. The ratings surge, which everyone at the NHL is giddy to point out, is proving that a dream match-up with marketable stars in marketable regions may just be enough to lift the NHL back to its pre-lockout status.
Even though Game 5 didn't beat primetime reruns, it did get hockey back into the conversation. More than one person reached out to me to say, at the very least, "I heard last night's game was great." Even if they don't watch, they're talking about it, which may be good news for tonight's Game 6. Although it'll be up against the first-place Tampa Bay Rays taking on the Boston Red Sox, the second do-or-die game for Pittsburgh has got people expecting another fantastic match and talking about a potential Game 7 in Detroit for Saturday.
Some interesting figures we saw from Monday night's game in the breakdown by market.
MONDAY'S TOP 10 MARKETS:
1. Pittsburgh, 35.4/52
2. Detroit, 29.6/46
3. Buffalo, 10.2/17
4. Denver, 7.2/12
5. Minneapolis, 7.1/13
6. St. Louis, 6.2/10
T7. Philadelphia, 4.9/9
T7. Nashville, 4.9/8
9. Washington, D.C., 4.7/9
10. Las Vegas, 4.4/7
Nashville, oft-cited as a terrible place for hockey and home of the (almost moved to Hamilton, Ont.) Predators, ties Philadelphia? I've heard that hockey is growing in popularity from some people in Nashville. This makes me sort of believe it. Same goes for Washington. I spoke with some D.C. residents recently, who explained that the last few months of Alexander Ovechkin's season and his team's playoff run had spread Caps Fever throughout the District.
"I hadn't watched a professional hockey game ever until then," a friend of mine said. But in a matter of weeks, everybody in the city was all about A.O. and it seems that maybe their fervor has carried over just a tad into the finals.
The presence of Sidney Crosby and America's most successful franchise (Red Wings) most certainly helps the NHL's cause. What would help even more?
A winner-takes-all Game 7.