Rangers-Kings matchup could pump NHL

To NBC's delight, teams may meet in Stanley Cup Finals

The Stanley Cup Finals are still a couple of weeks off, but if the puck rolls NBC’s way, there is a possibility of an attractive bicoastal New York-Los Angeles matchup.

While it may not be the Yankees vs. the Dodgers, the two cities have a storied sports rivalry, and ratings could soar — at least by NHL standards.

The Los Angeles Kings are in the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1993, and the New York Rangers are in a scrappy Eastern Conference semifinal round with the Washington Capitals. If the two teams can survive to reach the NHL’s biggest stage, however, the sport would clearly receive a huge ratings and PR boost.

The Los Angeles pro sports scene has long been dominated by the Dodgers and Lakers, but the Kings bandwagon has been building of late with the team’s surprising ascension in the playoffs. In Gotham, the Rangers — one of the league’s original six teams — have long had a rabid fanbase.

Clearly the ratings bar was set high last year . The deciding game seven between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks drew 8.5 million viewers, making it the most-watched NHL game in 38 years. In Boston, the game drew a 43.4 rating/64 share.

The Rangers have not won the Stanley Cup since 1994 and the Kings have never raised the Cup, so anticipation and viewership in both cities would be high.

“New York and Los Angeles is a sexy and exciting matchup,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for both NBC Sports and cabler NBC Sports Network, “but we’re lucky with all the teams that we have left.”

While the Kings and Rangers would surely draw eyeballs, the same may not be true — at least on a national stage — about the New Jersey Devils and Phoenix Coyotes, and that matchup is also a possibility.

Although it alternates games with the Peacock, NBC Sports Network has telecast the majority of playoff games so far this year, and its numbers are up. Each game is averaging 900,000 viewers, up 28% from the 702,000 viewers from last season and up 33% in the 18-49 male demo.

For the upcoming Stanley Cup Finals, NBC will broadcast the first two games and NBCSN the next two. The final three games, if necessary, will return to the Peacock.

Miller said the high-quality production value on both nets has been an important part of NBC Sports’ strategy to unify the cabler and the broadcaster into one NBC brand.

“HD has had a huge impact on the quality of our production,” Miller said, “and credit goes to Sam Flood (exec producer of hockey coverage), who was a college hockey player himself and came up with the radical idea about having one announcer upstairs and one downstairs (between the benches).”

But no matter how well the series looks on TV, the matchup of teams that take the ice is ultimately the barometer of who will be watching.

“Anytime you can get the New York market, that helps,” added Miller.