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Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game at the HP Pavilion on December 30, 2009 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) (Jed Jacobsohn/2009 Getty Images)
Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals looks on against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL game at the HP Pavilion on December 30, 2009 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) (Jed Jacobsohn/2009 Getty Images)

Usual Suspects

Game 7 means monster ratings Add to ...

"We'll take Ovvy and the Caps to block, Alex." Imagine Hollywood Squares: The NHL Version, as CBC tries to squeeze TSN out of an elite playoff series. With only two choices and three Canadian series in the opening round, the Corp was looking for a winner in their second choice. Taking Vancouver vs. Los Angeles was a no-brainer. But do you go with Montreal Canadiens versus Alex Ovechkin (and the Washington Capitals) or the Ottawa Senators versus Sidney Crosby (and the Pittsburgh Penguins)?

As we now know, CBC went with Olympic hero Crosby against the Sens. TSN, by default, got the Habs and Ovvy. And boy, is TSN happy they did. Looking for a long series, CBC saw Ottawa succumb in six while TSN gets a seventh-game bonanza tonight in Washington between the Habs and Caps. Adding to the Corp's chagrin, TSN lucked into a Game Seven last night in the Detroit/ Phoenix series. None of CBC's U.S.-based series went more than six-- leaving TSN unopposed for two straight nights.

Because CBC reaches far more Canadian households than does TSN, ratings comparisons are difficult. Individual game numbers were very strong on both CBC and TSN. Sunday's Vancouver clincher in Los Angeles pulled in 2.826 million on CBC. Saturday's elimination of the Sens by Pittsburgh attracted 2.984 million on the Mother Corp. But with fewer available TV screens, TSN has averaged 1,623,000 viewers so far for Montreal/ Washington in the series. (Game Seven tonight will dwarf that figure.) Chicago/ Nashville averaged 777,000 for five games while Detroit/Phoenix was averaging 710,000 before last night's 6-1 Detroit clincher.

Round Two Matchups: CBC wanted - and got - Vancouver's first game against Chicago on Saturday for its prime Hockey Night In Canada showcase, meaning they clubs will play again Monday in Chicago before heading to Vancouver on Wednesday for two games. NBC doesn't want a Canadian market to diminish the ratings, so it will take an all-American series such as Boston vs. Philadelphia or Detroit vs. San Jose for the Sunday NBC spotlight.

Confusion comes with Montreal's surprise extension of the Caps/ Habs first-round classic, which leaves a potential second Canadian series for CBC to broadcast in the second round. If Montreal beats Washington, it could opt for a doubleheader Saturday or go on opposing nights. The full second-round matchups will be announced following tonight's game in Washington.

Whose Side Are you On: Some in the NHL community felt that it was unfair to quote comments from NHL vice president Mike Murphy - who often makes the call on video reviews - speaking approvingly of the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup. They believe the quotes-- on the Kings' website-- were taken out of context. They point out Murphy's long service with the Kings and his excellent reputation in the business. (I have known Murphy for 20 years and has high regard for his professionalism.)

However, Murphy - like NHL referees - is in a unique position as arbiter of controversial rulings. It is not enough that no harm be done, but that no harm be seen to be done. Murphy's comments were sincere but ill-advised coming from someone who can change the fate of a game or a series. His decision in Daniel Sedin SkateGate was one of those moments. As a trained lawyer, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should know the no-harm rule and remind employees that impartiality is paramount. There will be lots of time to stump for former teams when they stop cashing NHL cheques.

Unwelcome Matt: Usual Suspects' old pal Matt Millen - who tortured us through eight bleak campaigns as Detroit Lions GM - is now once again spreading his charm on TV. Featured on ESPN's draft coverage, Millen was waxing philosophic with cohort Ron Jaworski (from Buffalo, New York) about fried bologna sandwiches. "Ask any Polack from Buffalo how they like them, right Jaws?"

Things being what they are in the Polish community these days, the remark went over like a... well, fried bologna sandwich. After some consultation with the ESPN suits, Millen re-appeared on camera to say he had, perhaps, been a little insensitive to his pal Jaws and other Poles. "I made a comment that could have been misconstrued to people of Polish descent... I meant nothing by it." Lion fans know the feeling.

Trouble Blue: Finally, Toronto/B.C. dual owner David Braley is contemplating blacking out some Argos home games this season. The idea is to do a Bill Wirtz, protecting a pitiful ticket base by denying waffling fans cheap TV access to their team. This has proven disastrous elsewhere. But considering the sepulchral experience on Argos game day at the Rogers Centre, this might be smarter notion than it looks.

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