The Los Angeles Kings may have won on the ice but the team received a significant victory off the ice as well. For just the fifth time since 1994, the Stanley Cup Final was watched by average of five million viewers. Los Angeles's five-game series with the New York Rangers was one casual hockey fans will not soon forget - and it shows.
According to a press release from NBC, the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs were the second-most-watched since 2006 when the NHL celebrated their first postseason after a lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. This year's Final even drew more viewers than the NBA Finals. Say what you will about the NBA but when two teams - and a league - draw more viewers than a series involving two of basketball's most elite teams in the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, it is apparent that either the NHL did something right or fans, new and old, realize that they just could not ignore the phenomenon that is the Los Angeles Kings any longer.
Also, in addition to the television numbers, NBC Sports Live Extra set streaming records for the Playoffs, the Final and the Cup-clinching Game 5.
2014 also marked the first of the NHL's new playoff format pitting the second and third seeds of each division facing off while the top divisional seeds faced off against either one of the two wild-card teams. This is different from the 1 vs. 8 conference format the league had been using since 1994.
Overall, the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs saw a total of 93 games. During that stretch, fans were privileged to see a total of 46 one-goal games and 26 overtime games - although technically I doubt fans were able to watch every, single game. Then again, maybe they were.
NBC, NBCSN and CNBC combined for 1.445 million viewers this postseason. Only the playoffs in 1996 (1.564 million on Fox/ESPN), 1997 (1.523 million on Fox/ESPN), and 2013 (1.471 million) had better ratings.
On cable, these were the most-watched playoffs since 1997 (1.211 million on ESPN/ESPN2) with an average 1.098 million tuning in to NBCSN and CNBC.
From a personal standpoint, I have always viewed the 1997 playoffs as one of the best - in my lifetime, at least.
En route to their first Stanley Cup victory in 42 years, the Detroit Red Wings were not the perennial Cup favourites they had been in previous years. That moniker instead went to the defending champion Colorado Avalanche. But after being eliminated by the Avs in the 1996 Western Final, the Red Wings met their rivals for a rematch in the 1997 version of the Western Final. But this time, they got their revenge knocking the reigning champs off their perch. Sound familiar?
But as great as the 2013 playoffs were, the 2014 version beat their predecessors by 10 per cent in cable viewership.
As for the Finals, they delivered a household rating 3.01 while averaging 5.001 million viewers. Only the Finals in 2013, 2010, 2002 and 1997 drew more viewers. Unfortunately, the two most recent of the two were Finals won by the Chicago Blackhawks. While that is very good for the team, I certainly hope their fans don't find out about this. After all, if they took something as arbitrary as attendance to a championship parade as a victory, I do not even want to imagine how they would react to fans tuning in to watch their team.
As for the Cup-clincher, Game 5 generated an average of 6.0 million viewers, making it the most-watched Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final since 2008 when Detroit and Pittsburgh locked horns. In addition, according to the Nielsen Rating's Fast National data, NBC won the night in primetime as a result.
Locally, Los Angeles delivered a 12.4 rating. That proved to be good enough for the market's second-best rating ever on NBC or NBCSN. If you are asking yourselves what was ranked as number-one, then I would be disappointed that you had to even ask. The top spot belongs to none other than the Kings' first Cup-clinching game: Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
According to The Futon Critic, these were the Top 10 markets for Game 5:
1) Los Angeles 12.4
2) New York 10.4
3) Buffalo 9.2
4) Boston 6.3
4) Minneapolis-St. Paul 6.3
6) Pittsburgh 5.5
7) Providence 5.4
9) West Palm Beach 5.2
9) Las Vegas 5.2
On a sidenote, Chicago is ranked as tied for seventh with a 5.4 rating. For a general fanbase that has proven that they still have hard feelings over their team's playoff exit at the hands of the Kings, they seemed very interested in the Finals, anyway. Of course, I digress.
While these ratings are certain wonderful for the Los Angeles Kings (and the New York Rangers), no one should be rejoicing more from this than the NHL itself.
During the lockout in 2012, Commissioner Gary Bettman was cavalier enough to suggest that there wouldn't be any hurry to end the work stoppage as fans would be back anyway. While he is certainly cognizant of theloyalty of hockey fans, Mr. Bettman certainly made a lot of fans (yours truly included) angry for seeming so carefree. But, as much as I hated to admit, he was right.
Many fans vowed they would boycott the NHL when it returned but for most (again, yours truly included), the boycott didn't last. You could suggest that the Kings fans who didn't boycott didn't so because they wanted to see their team raise that much-anticipated Stanley Cup banner, and that would be half-correct. But while it is a business, those fans who didn't boycott looked beyond the business side of the game (as transparent as it was during the work stoppage) and remember why they not only fell in love with the game but they stuck by it.
The 2013 season, while it was abbreviated, could not have finished any better.
The final four teams in the 2013 playoffs wound up being the four most recent Stanley Cup winners with the Los Angeles Kings losing in the Western Final ending their championship reign. But as disappointing as the loss was for Kings fans (once again, yours truly included) the Final between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks was a classic series. Never mind that it was the first all-Original Six final since 1979 but each game was as riveting as the last with fans and the media (once again, well, you know...) on the edge of their collective seats. Then, when fans couldn't think 2013 couldn't be topped, along came 2014.
Whether a fan of the Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers or the NHL in general, the popularity of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs could not leave hockey in a better state than it is right now. Whoever says that no one cares bout hockey in the United States or that no one watches hockey in June certainly has another thing coming.
The state of hockey has never been stronger and the very same could be - nay, should be - said for 2014's winners of hockey's Holy Grail, the Los Angeles Kings.