Jones: Fantastic bounce back in the Stanley Cup playoffs

Arenas are full, TV fans are awake as the NHL Playoffs return

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It’s like being the baseball player throwing the ball home to Hank Aaron to break Babe Ruth’s record.

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If the Edmonton Oilers lose a fourth game and are eliminated in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, they will have played a role in making the sport’s history.

I mean, think about what’s happening here this season.

Seven of the eight series of the Extraordinary Experience that were the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs went to Game 6.

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Only one of the 16 teams was eliminated as Game Six began in the first round on Thursday.

Nothing in the sport can quite match the first round of the top seven qualifiers in hockey. This has been a great year to bounce back from the seasons of the COVID protocol.

Show continued. The pivotal bubble hockey game in Toronto and Edmonton. Shortening of the Corona virus epidemic mini-leagues such as the Canadian League qualifiers last year. There were no playoffs without fans in the stands, it was not the same.

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But the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs gave the NHL a massive revival to the “normal” special two weeks as the hockey season peaks six weeks before the actual Stanley Cup Final.

During the first eight days of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Hockey Night’s coverage in Canada and Sportsnet reached 15.1 million Canadian viewers per day.

This represents 40.4 percent of the population!

Viewer reach increased by 5 percent compared to 2020 and three percent during 2021.

Considering the impact the Canadian team’s all-North Division side had on first-round numbers last season, the increase this season is quite impressive.

Lightning defender Victor Hedman, left, fights against Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner during Game Five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Lightning defender Victor Hedman, left, fights against Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner during Game Five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. Photography by Klaus Andersen /Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ Game 5’s comeback to defeat back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on the ninth night reached 6.9 million viewers.

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Despite starting at 8:20 p.m. in Edmonton in a game that kept people in the Eastern time zone until around 2 a.m. to watch the Oilers return from an early deficit to reach overtime — only to lose 5-4 to the Los Angeles Kings — the reach was 4.7 million. Canadian.

Understand that these numbers do not include French language viewers on TVA.

But it’s in the United States where the numbers are staggering.

With its first 32 games on ESPN, ESPN2, TNT and TBS, it’s up 42 percent from 2021 and 29 percent on cable through the same number of games with previous TV partners.

Of note, Saturday’s third game of the New York Rangers-Pittsburgh Penguins series on TNT was the most-watched first-round series 1-4 of the series on US cable ever.

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Rangers forwards Frank Vatrano, left, and Philip Chettle, right, celebrate Chettel's third-inning goal against the Penguins in Game Five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
Rangers forwards Frank Vatrano, left, and Philip Chettle, right, celebrate Chettel’s third-inning goal against the Penguins in Game Five of the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Photography by Bruce Bennett /Getty Images

It was the most-watched first-round non-game 6-7 game since 1997. The game had an average audience of 1.323 million. That’s up 119 percent from last year’s third Penguins-Islanders game on NBCSN. Compared to 2019’s Islanders-Penguins Game 4 on NBCSN, the game is up 111 percent.

When he was in Edmonton for Game 2, Commissioner Gary Bateman told me that the first game of the playoffs on new partner ESPN attracted the largest television audience in the United States in more than 20 years. It was over the moon.

Pittman expanded on the big picture, which involves a return to near-normal after four games on Tuesday.

“Our buildings are overcrowded. We play at least 100 per cent in all of our play-offs. Our TV ratings, especially in the US, have risen significantly.

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“Most importantly, our fans are back and connecting with each other.

“Last week I toured six cities to experience first-round play-off matches and found them incredibly energized,” he said of the trip, which included stops in Calgary and Edmonton.

“I’ve missed it for the past couple of years. Having participated in several empty yard games including Bubble in Toronto and Edmonton, seeing the crowds with all of our buildings full has been awesome.

“The excitement was exciting. People really want to enjoy being in the games.

“Isn’t that what we are really about? Connecting with fans?”

It’s like the Leafs in Game 5 gather from their former identity of being a team they can count on turning over and blasting series after series.

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It was like the Oilers coming into overtime in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Place.

Edmonton fans won’t remember the team’s poor start and disappointing finish in overtime. But what about the way Connor David and Leon Drysett rallied to get the team to work overtime?

It was a classic stuff in disguise from the first round.

Yes, the Oilers might end up being the guy who threw Hank Aaron’s pitch out of the park. But while there aren’t any Edmonton fans who would be proud of it, they’ll be able to look back knowing they were a part of it as the game gracefully returned to the happiest two weeks of the hockey season once again.

They’ll be skating away this season as Al Downing watches Hank Aaron around the bases, forever linked to a great moment in the sport.

tjones@postmedia.com

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