LARRY LAGE,AP Hockey Writer
The NBC Sports Network set a record.
It might not stand for very long.
The cable channel had a 2.07 national rating, its highest for an NHL broadcast, with 3,354,000 viewers tuning in to watch Chicago beat Detroit 2-1 in overtime of Game 7 Wednesday night.
Its previous record in seven-plus years of carrying NHL games was a 1.97 rating set on June 2, 2010, when Chicago played Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup finals.
“We live by numbers every day and what this tells us is that the NHL is on a roll in this country,” NBC Sports president of programing Jon Miller said Thursday. “While the lockout was unfortunate, we’re seeing that hockey has some impressive momentum. We’re really excited and encouraged by the continued growth in interest of the game and how people are finding the games on the NBC Sports Network.
“Now, we’re poised for what should be great conference finals.”
The numbers could potentially be even better in June with major markets and big-time teams, which have won the last four Stanley Cups, still playing.
Chicago hosts the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals on the NBC Sports Network on Saturday afternoon and Pittsburgh plays Boston at home in the Eastern Conference finals opener on NBC in prime time that night.
The last Red Wings-Blackhawks postseason game as Western Conference teams — Detroit is headed East next season — was the most-watched conference semifinals game on cable since at least 1994 and highest-rated, non-Stanley Cup finals game on cable since a Detroit-Colorado conference finals game on May 29, 2002, drew a 2.09 rating.
Miller said the high-paced, hard-hitting game is drawing new fans each night.
“There is nothing in sports that equates to playoff hockey,” he said. “I think hockey players care more about their playoffs than any other sport and you can see that in the way they leave it all out there every game. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
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