Friday, May 28, 2010

Sports On the Air and The Great Goalie Debate

Maybe Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller can join the Great Goalie Debate during his guest stint tonight as a studio analyst on NBC’s coverage of the first game of the Stanley Cup finals.

You know, whether a National Hockey League team needs an elite goalie to win the Stanley Cup.

The debate has raged on while the Philadelphia Flyers reached the finals with Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton and the Chicago Black Hawks made it with Antti Niemi.

During a conference call Thursday, NBC reporter and studio host Pierre McGuire tried to put all the talk in perspective.

“A big part of what has allowed these goalies to prosper,” said McGuire, “is the fact that both these teams have unbelievable defensemen in front of them.”

In other words, if you don't have an elite goalie you better have an elite defense.

On the same call, CBC analyst Don Cherry, a huge Leighton fan, said he believed that the goalies will be the key to a series that matches the speedy Black Hawks against the physical Flyers.

“Here they are in the finals and I think it will be which one falters,” said Cherry.

Even before Miller was named guest analyst for tonight’s game one, the finals had extra appeal to Buffalo hockey fans since former Sabres Danny Briere (Flyers) and Brian Campbell (Black Hawks) and South Buffalo native Patrick Kane are all involved. Leighton also was briefly a Sabre property, though he played for the Rochester Americans and never got into a Sabre game.

Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate, got healthy ratings in the 4's for the conference finals games. In the finals, it should get double-digit ratings that are higher than the ratings for the network’s prime time shows. NBC carries games one and two and five through seven, if necessary. Versus, the NHL’s cable rights-holder that is owned by the same company than owns the Flyers and may soon own NBC, gets games three and four.

“We expect strong ratings,” said Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner. “(Advertising) sales are brisk.”

Of course, the NHL is accustomed to getting strong ratings in Buffalo and this year is no different.

According to Versus, Buffalo is ranked No. 3 among TV markets for the 60 games it carried through the first three rounds with a 1.6 household rating. Pittsburgh is No.1 with a 2.6 and Philadelphia No. 2 with a 1.7.

That’s right, Buffalo is even ahead of hockey mad Chicago, which averaged a 1.4 for all playoff games on Versus. However, a ratings point in Chicago gets many more viewers than a point in small market Buffalo.

Cherry is among those who believe the NHL and NBC should be “jumping for joy” about a match-up that features two teams from large TV markets in the United States.

Keith Jones, the former Flyer who is a Versus studio analyst, added that they also are two teams that have turned it around after “battling for lottery picks” a few seasons ago.

“Both teams have come so far in a short time,” added Jones.

He thinks the Black Hawks will be competing for the Cup for years, while the Flyers realize this is their best chance for some time.

Jones said that the recent HBO documentary, “Broad Street Bullies,” about the Flyer teams that won the 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cups (beating the Sabres in 1975), puts the latest Flyer run in perspective for fans of all ages in the City of Brotherly Love.

“The timing could not have been better,” said Jones. “Young people see it through the eyes of their parents. That brings out a lot of passion.”

Jones added that Briere has been “more Buffalo Sabres-like” since he was forced back to playing center because of Flyer injuries.

Of course, the Flyers are underdogs this time around. Predictably, the analysts on the conference call said they believed the series would be closer than expected.

“(Philadelphia) is a much better team than people are giving them credit for,” said McGuire.

However, Cherry – who thought San Jose got some tough penalty calls in its series with Chicago -- also worries that the officiating could be a factor in the finals.

“If they call penalties like they did on San Jose, it will be tough on Philadelphia,” said Cherry. “If they let them play, it will help Philadelphia.”

In other words, the Flyers would be better off if this series was played with the same rules used in 1975 when they beat the Sabres.

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