In the U.S., the hockey fan community has been segregated into those who have NHL Center Ice pay-per-view and those who don't.
For those who do, it will be a glorious night of hockey: The Detroit Red Wings and Anaheim Ducks on Versus, and the Carolina Hurricanes against the Boston Bruins on Center Ice. Two Game Sevens on the same night. Hockey-gasm. (FanHouse reported earlier that Canes/Bruins was on NHL Network, which isn't the case.)
For those who don't have Center Ice, the climactic finale of the Boston series will be reduced to updates on Versus and a refreshed box score on the Internet -- until it's joined in progress after the Wings game (barring overtime, of course). Then again, it's not as if Boston and Carolina have exactly been treated kindly by the NHL and Versus all series.
It's bad enough that fans still complain about Versus not being readily available, even on some cable systems in Philadelphia (!). But to have a Game 7 in the semifinals invisible to the majority of American hockey fans is really no way to grow a sport, is it?
On the one hand, this is an argument for every fan (and every cable system) to have Center Ice, which is naturally an argument the NHL wants us to have because it's a hell of a revenue generator for the League. On the other, it continues the debate about the NHL's decision not to accept smaller rights fees and sign up with ESPN's family on networks; a family that, in theory, could have broadcast one Game 7 on ESPN2 and the other on, say, ESPN Classic in an emergency situation like tonight.
Versus has carried all of the Penguins-Caps series except for Game 1, which NBC broadcast on May 2, and has averaged 1.04 million viewers, according to the Nielsen Company. The series is drawing a smaller audience than last year's College Baseball World Series, on ESPN, when it averaged 1.4 million viewers. On May 8, only 647,000 viewers tuned into Game 4 of Penguins-Capitals, making it the 81st highest-rated program on cable that night. The Crosby-Ovechkin dream duel clocked in behind both a Batman episode on the Cartoon Network (1.5 million viewers), and a "Reba" rerun on Lifetime (930,000). The Los Angeles Lakers-Houston Rockets NBA playoff game on ESPN, with nearly 6 million viewers, came in first.
As for tonight's games, there's one action the NHL should have probably taken in the name of good PR: Offering a free live stream of the Bruins and Hurricanes on GameCenter Live, as Awful Announcing suggests. Instead of, you know, charging 20 bucks for it.
Live blogs, like the one we're having tonight? A lot cheaper, in every sense of the word.