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In a perfect world imagined by the CBC, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks would compete every year for the Stanley Cup.

The Leafs and Canucks, playing in Canada's two largest English-language markets, would maximize audiences.

But, in the absence of either or any Canadian team, the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Detroit Red Wings is an appealing alternative.

"It's a dream series," Sherali Najak, the executive producer of the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, said. "Both markets have a great hockey history. You always want a Canadian team in there, but there are a lot Canadians participating.

"When you have players representing regions across the country, whether it's Cole Harbour, N.S. [Penguins star Sidney Crosby's hometown] or Peace River, Alta. [where Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgoode is from] you're connecting the country with the dots."

Host Ron MacLean will interview Crosby tonight during the pregame show of the first game of the final, a sign that the relationship between Canada's best young hockey player and Hockey Night has warmed after a chilly start when Don Cherry rapped Crosby a few years ago for using a flashy, lacrosse-style puck manoeuvre in junior hockey. Also during the pregame show, Elliotte Friedman will interview Wings veteran Chris Chelios.

Cherry's Coach's Corner will be featured in all the Cup telecasts. For the second intermission, Craig Simpson will team with Kelly Hrudey for additional commentary, although tonight and next Saturday the Satellite Hotstove will be the featured spot in the second intermission. Bob Cole and Greg Millen will call the games, all of which will be shot in high-definition television.

No more excuses

For NBC, which will begin its Cup final coverage on Wednesday with the third game, the Penguins-Red Wings matchup will reveal plenty about where hockey is in the United States as a TV sport.

Since taking over from ABC as the NHL's U.S. broadcaster, NBC has been burdened with two consecutive small-market matchups in the Cup final: Edmonton Oilers-Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and Ottawa Senators-Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

But this one's made for U.S. television. NBC and NHL have promoted Crosby heavily for the past three seasons. The Penguins are an exciting young team. The Red Wings were the league's best in the regular season. Both Detroit and Pittsburgh are strong TV markets for hockey.

U.S. ratings (percentage of potential households tuned in) for Cup final telecasts hit a high of 3.7 on ABC in 2000 for the New Jersey Devils-Dallas Stars series, but since then they have decreased. Last year, NBC earned an average rating of only 1.6 for Ottawa-Anaheim.

But no more excuses. Given the interest, Penguins-Wings should be able to push NBC's ratings average to well above 2.0, assuming the games are competitive and entertaining.

Last weekend, NBC earned 1.5 and 1.7 overnight ratings for Detroit-Dallas and Philadelphia Flyers-Penguins, respectively, for a combined increase of 14 per cent from the comparable telecasts in 2007.

Hockey Night drew an average audience of 1.079 million for its conference final telecasts, a huge drop of 29 per cent from last year. The decrease is attributable to the absence of a Canadian team. The Ottawa Senators played the Buffalo Sabres in the 2007 Eastern Conference final. This year, Hockey Night had three afternoon telecasts, which produce smaller audiences, and only one last year.

Still with the CBC, it has reached an agreement with Soccer Canada to air Canadian Champions League games on its cable channel, Bold, and also stream the telecasts. Three teams will compete: Toronto FC of Major League Soccer and the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact of the United Soccer Leagues. The first telecast will be on Tuesday, Toronto-Montreal at 7:30 p.m. on Bold and

TSN's live telecast on Wednesday afternoon of the UEFA Champions League final was watched by 284,000 viewers, a network record for the event. The Manchester United-Chelsea overtime thriller went to penalty kicks. TSN's previous best was 259,000 for Arsenal-Barcelona in 2006.