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The Stanley Cup Has A Leg Up On The NBA Finals … At Least This Year

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It's certainly not from an abundance of effort. Well, sure, the NHL would absolutely love to be more popular than the NBA, but they aren't even close. For example, when it comes to the regular seasons between the two, hands down, the NBA wins. Quality aside, more people follow plain old basketball than hockey, except for perhaps the outdoor game on New Year's Day.

When the playoffs come around, the gap between the two narrows. For basketball, all the major players are basically known. But when hockey strolls around, you're probably like me, wherein I'm trying to scramble and figure out which teams are favored, who's on what team ("Jeremy Roenick plays where?"), and then breathe an ultimate sigh of relief when it's known the Red Wings and the Penguins are back in the Stanley Cup Finals.

In a twist of scheduling fortune, both NHL conference finals wrapped up relatively quickly, with the longer one lasting a whole five games. This let NBC and Versus scooch up the dates by an entire week, even though it meant two games overlapping falling on dates of the NBA Finals:

June 5: The Wings and Pens were already on Game 4, and the Penguins tied the series back up with a 4-2 victory at home, turning a laugher into a grinder. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers made it a misdemeanor for anyone from Florida to take a jump shot, resulting in a 100-75 Lakers victory. Between those two games, the NBA game certainly had more intrigue, because people wanted to know what kind of series it was going to be. Once it looked like the same kind of series when the Magic were in it the first time, the momentous advantage went to the Stanley Cup. The problem, of course, was that Game 4 of the SCF was aired on Versus. Basic cable. Bush league. College baseball super regionals were getting watched more. But the competitiveness of the series could not be kept as big a secret as the live telecast of it.

June 9: Last night, the Magic finally gained their first ever NBA Finals victory with a hard-fought 108-104 victory in Game 3. Of course, a couple channels over, NBC was airing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, wherein men with white gloves were able to take the Cup out of its protective lockbox and flaunt it for all the drooling fans to witness. That was because it could have been the final game of the season, had the Red Wings won. But the Penguins kept the "win at home" pattern intact with an insanely good 2-1 victory that featured just about everything a hockey fan needed except a really big and unnecessary fight. Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury shut up his critics who claim he's not a big-time player, except for that one little nattering nabob who pointed out that, when it mattered most in the final minute, Rob Scuderi is actually a better keeper. And he didn't even have the pads or fat stick.

As it stands, the NBA Finals could still unfold the same way the Stanley Cup did, where everyone wins at home, setting up a Game 7. But how likely is that? Rarely do basketball championships go that far. Just twice in the last 20 years has the NBA Finals needed the full septet of games, whereas the NHL has seen more than twice as many Game 7s(five) … just this decade.

There was a chance — and I was dead set on thinking — that the NBA Finals would have ended Thursday with a Lakers sweep. Instead, they get at least five games, extending their season past the NHL, which wraps up on Friday in Detroit. It would have given hockey the final impression for the winter sports, which would have cemented the argument for the Stanley Cup being more exciting than the NBA Finals this year. It's a contentious point that hockey really needs right now, since one of its teams is out of money and a few familiar faces such as Sergei Fedorov are signing with teams overseas. Nevertheless, hockey will have the ratings jackpot of a Game Seven, while the NBA has a long road to travel on a rickety moped to reach one of their own.

It can't go wrong for hockey on Friday night. Either the Red Wings become a dynasty and the Marian Hossa "betrayal" saga comes full circle, or still frames of Sidney Crosby holding up Lord Stanley's Cup effectively swear in the league's reigning superstar. If the game goes to overtime, then, well, the blind squirrel trips over its cherished acorn, and everyone wins.

(Photo Credit: Associated Press)

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  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Versus and the NHL need to do a better job building the brand, and they need better broadcasters.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Versus SUCKS. NHL needs to get back with ESPN immediately if there’s to be any decent market coverage in the United States. Luckily I think that’s what Bettman has in mind.

  • http://www.thelayoffbeard.com/ Matt Sussman

    I’ve heard some people who actually enjoy the Versus broadcasters over the NBC guys. Not sure who they are, but they do exist.

    It doesn’t sound like ESPN has any interest in getting back together. And now that they air NBA playoff games, how do you fit hockey in there?

    I’ve always wondered by NBC doesn’t buy Versus and use ABC’s model to dole out their sports coverage.

  • http://whalertly.blogspot.com Robert M. Barga

    The thing is, it is better on VS only if i can get VS HD on WOW cable, otherwise way to go NBC

    that said, putting it back on ESPN is a horrible thing. We remember how the brodcast was treated and all of that, keep it off of there

  • http://whalertly.blogspot.com Robert M. Barga

    may i point out a common myth – you all think that ESPN and NBC are doing well well, VS kicked their ass’.

  • http://www.thelayoffbeard.com/ Matt Sussman

    So Versus has two Stanley Cup games, ESPN has nothing, and Versus just barely outdraws them.

    Your link says nothing about NBC.

  • http://www.back-to-the-egg.blogspot.com/ Ginger Haycox

    Being an obsessive Penguins fan, I guess there’s no question here how I feel about the points you’ve made. But as “obscure” as the game of hockey is, it has to be noted that the Stanley Cup is the single most recognized trophy in the world. Yes, in the world! How is that? How is it that this 35 pound silver chalice is so widely known, yet ESPN can still make more money from showing that wonderful ‘sport’ poker than it can one of the most exciting games on earth?
    As far as VS goes, they are relatively new at carrying hockey so some of their coverage is forgivable. At least they carry it. I think both ESPN & Fox dropped the ball (or puck, if you will) on this one & have let down a lot of hockey fans in this country.

  • http://whalertly.blogspot.com Robert M. Barga

    valid point
    i believe that the VS network was pulling more than NBC for local markets during the playoffs (they mentioned it at the end of detroit/chicago series)

  • http://whalertly.blogspot.com Robert M. Barga

    @7 and wayne gretzky is one of the msot recognized names in the world