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THN.com Playoff Blog: NHL has a pulse in America

Hockey analyst Pierre McGuire interviews Sidney Crosby of the Penguins. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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Hockey analyst Pierre McGuire interviews Sidney Crosby of the Penguins. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

Is it lucky happenstance or the payoff from hard work and prudent planning?

We won’t know the answer to that question for several months or years, but finally the NHL is showing signs of life in the United States.

The ratings for the Stanley Cup final, both on Versus and NBC, have been strong, particularly by NHL standards.

Versus drew a reported average of 2.426 million viewers for Games 1 and 2, which is up 181 percent from 2006 (863,206 average) and 273 percent from 2007 (649,779).

NBC attracted 4.04 million for Game 3, the most entertaining tilt of the final to date. That represents a 144 percent increase over 2007 and the league’s best rating for a Game 3 in six years. In addition, more households in Detroit were watching Zetterberg vs. Crosby (18.2 percent rating) than Wallace vs. Garnett (14 percent) in Game 5 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference final.

Of course, the marquee matchup between two traditional U.S.-based hockey markets may have something to do with the spike. A Canadian team has appeared in every final since 2004.

But we won’t rain on the parade just yet. Besides, the NBC telecasts are excellent. I love the element Pierre McGuire provides between the benches, delivering heat-of-the moment interviews and the occasional report on trash talk.

When Tomas Holmstrom was injured late in Game 3 after being dumped by Hal Gill, McGuire told us one of the Penguins skated by the bench (Tyler Kennedy if memory serves correctly) and said in a disbelieving tone to the combative Swede, “That hurt you?

That was followed by another Penguin telling Wings forward Kirk Maltby it was time he retired.

It wasn’t earth-shattering, but it’s the kind of inside-the-game feel you don’t get anywhere else.

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Holmstrom’s injury remained a mystery and his status for Game 4 was unclear. There was some speculation he tweaked a knee; another “report” said he aggravated a late-season sports hernia.

Either way, if he can’t go Saturday night don’t underestimate his absence – he is the game’s premier crease-disturber. While he doesn’t collect as many points as Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg, his presence creates opportunities for them, tying up defensemen, drawing penalties and knocking goalies off their games. He also is adept at deflecting pucks and is very strong along the boards.

In addition, his loss would have a domino effect on line combinations and depth. Coach Mike Babcock could put Johan Franzen or Dan Cleary in Holmstrom’s place, but that weakens the Wings’ secondary attack – something that has been huge for them this post-season.

The NHL will observe a moment of silence for Luc Bourdon prior to the start of Game 4. The 21-year-old Canucks prospect died in a motorcycle crash in New Brunswick Thursday.

The staff at The Hockey News sends its deepest condolences and prayers to his family and friends.

Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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