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Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin hoists the Conn Smythe Trophy after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. (SHAUN BEST)
Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin hoists the Conn Smythe Trophy after defeating the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. (SHAUN BEST)

The Usual Suspects

'Sid and the Pens' storyline is missing Malkin Add to ...

Question: If it was "Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins" winning the Stanley Cup - as Jim Hughson and the NHL in general asserted - why did Evgeni Malkin win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP? And outscore Sid in the regular season? How did the Pens play half of Game 7 without him - and still win? Just asking. If Geno gets the Pearson and the Hart trophies, he'll be the first player since Wayne Gretzky in 1985 to win the NHL's big five in one season.

Sid and the Pens? Needs some work.

Rating The Ship

They like hockey, they really, really like hockey!

Well, sort of. …

Friday's Game 7 win by Pittsburgh clocked a sterling 3.0 rating (18-49 adults) on NBC, with a peak of nine million viewers in the 10 p.m. EDT segment.

The strength of the two respective hockey TV markets, a prime-time Game 7 championship, and weak TV opposition (Fox's mighty Don't Forget the Lyrics) gave NBC the best rating since Game 7 in the 1994 Cup final between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers (beating Game 7 of the Anaheim Ducks-New Jersey Devils in 2003, which drew 7.2 million viewers).

By contrast, however, Game 5 of the NBA final last Thursday drew a 6.4 rating with 16 million viewers tuning in for the Los Angeles Lakers' overtime win.

We'll hear CBC's numbers Monday morning. The Corp., which pays $100-million for NHL rights, lost the battle for a Saturday-night game to NBC (which pays zero dollars for rights). But the Game 7 ratings bonanza should be enough to rescue what have otherwise been flaccid numbers for CBC in the final. At least, that's what it's praying.

Don Patrol

Perhaps CBC's tepid ratings until now stem from confusion over content. Hockey Night in Canada seems to believe the show is Don Cherry with a little hockey game on the side. A few deluded souls believe the players and game should take prominence over He Who Will Not be Ignored. Once again, Game 7 featured another homage à Cherry as he fished an octopus out of the Detroit River. This after the laboured Dos Equis beer spoof and a season of otherwise bowing and scraping to his schtick.

However one feels about Cherry (Usual Suspects was shocked to learn there are strong feelings), he has become the franchise. Hockey Night has become inseparable from Cherry, and the cult of his personality renders succession planning at the show virtually impossible. It is like The Friendly Giant without Bob Homme, Mr. Dressup without Ernie Combs, Green Acres without Eva Gabor. The blinding spectacle of Cherry has effectively quashed any successors from the group that now genuflects to him nightly.

When - if - Cherry takes his leave, the void in the program will make the Marianas Trench look like a pothole.

He Do Ron Ron

Hockey Night will also have to consider the polymorphous Ron MacLean, Cherry's caddy. One minute he's the crack reporter on The Hot Stove, all fedoras with the business card and a pencil behind the ear. Then he's the frozen Deepak Chopra, spouting homilies about Pittsburgh's rookie head coach Dan Bylsma, "He learned there was a busload of adversity and a flight of opportunity along the way."

The next moment he's the unabashed fan, gushing over the players on the ice Friday night. His love-in with Maxime Talbot in the moments after the Penguins won was an unctuous, "You're such a heart-and-soul guy, those little conversations with Marc-André [Fleury] you got him through." And for Brooks Orpik, there was the penetrating "Wow!" as an opening question. (Apparently Orpik speaks MacLean and was able to respond.) Then to Sidney Crosby, "I love the way you lifted [the Stanley Cup]"

And so on. Hmm, Usual Suspects thought you had to buy a ticket to be a fan.

As MacLean was busy Wow-ing the Penguins, the CBC audience missed the announcement of Malkin as Conn Smythe winner. (Considering the announcement was made by Mr. Smiles 'n' Giggles, Gary Bettman, perhaps we didn't miss a whole lot.)

We did get to hear a warm greeting for the Commish from the faithful at the Joe Louis Arena, however, as he presented the Stanley Cup to Crosby.

They weren't booing, they were … well, they were booing, as a matter-of-fact.

Never one to miss a chance to Balsillie-ize these days, Bettman oozed thanks to the owners of the new Cup winners, "for saving the Pittsburgh Penguins." Apparently Detroit owner Mike Ilitch was unmoved; after Bettman failed to acknowledge the Wings in his Cup presentation speech, Ilitch kept walking past the commissioner as Bettman stuck out his hand under the stands.

dowbboy@shaw.ca

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