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A final note on the CBC's coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs: The telecast of the seventh game was, as the network's postseason work was generally, a mixed bag: The camera work produced excellent pictures; the commentary was, at best, mediocre.

The calibre of coverage, of course, was helped by the final being one of the best played and entertaining in years. Not that the Hockey Night in Canada personalities chose to acknowledge the high level of play. After all, the two most powerful people on the show -- host Ron MacLean and lead commentator Don Cherry -- dislike the new National Hockey League and weren't about to convey kudos.

Still, the game was terrific. The final few minutes, with Carolina clinging to a 2-1 lead, were riveting.

Then, with 1 minute 17 seconds remaining and the faceoff in Carolina's zone, Edmonton called a timeout. The camera zoomed in on Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, chalkboard in hand, giving directions to his players. Now was the time for the play-by-play team of Bob Cole and Harry Neale to set the scene.

Who would be on the ice for the teams? What was Edmonton's plan? Who would take the critical faceoff?

What did they give us? Believe it or not, Neale decided to use the time to thank the Hockey Night producer and director for their good work during the season. Cole, at the most important stage of the Stanley Cup playoffs, noted it was executive producer Joel Darling's birthday.

"The young man had a birthday today," he said. "Happy birthday, Joel."

They ignored the drama of the moment. Instead of giving us information, they delivered stuff that was irrelevant. It was beyond appalling. It was embarrassing to the CBC, to Hockey Night and everything it has represented over the years.

Almost as wrong-headed was the decision to use the second intermission for an interview with Carolina's radio play-by-play announcer, Tripp Tracy, who apparently played in the American Hockey League. MacLean acknowledged that Tracy's input would not be "welcomed in Edmonton."

We're guessing it wasn't welcomed in many places. Tracy's insight was myopic and his terminology new to us. Back pressure? It turned out he was referring to backchecking.

For intermission analysis in the seventh game of a final, Hockey Night should have produced a front-line coach, not a radio play-by-play man.

Good deal

The World Cup television rights holders in Canada held a meeting before the start of the tournament and set a plan in motion. Once and for all, they would silence the prickly, ill-tempered Canadian soccer fans. Never again (at least not this year) would they be able to complain about an unavailable game or a tape-delayed telecast.

The wall-to-wall live coverage, followed by multiple replays, isn't a perfect system. On some nights, the replays don't begin until late because of other prime-time programming commitments. Last night, for example, an encore of England-Sweden didn't air until 11:30 p.m. EDT.

Still, it's the best TV deal Canadian soccer fans have been given, and viewers are watching in record numbers. Any complaints, soccer fans?

Well, the Rogers Sportsnet-TSN studio show yesterday morning didn't adequately explain England's options in its game against Sweden as they applied to meeting the red-hot Germans in the next round.

"Everyone wants to avoid Germany," Vic Rauter said of England's potential strategy. "So the feeling is . . ."

Because he didn't finish his sentence, we don't know what the feeling was.

As it turned out, Germany defeated Ecuador, meaning England had to hold first spot in Group B to avoid meeting the host team. England tied Sweden, meaning England kept first place and avoided the Germans.

The Sportsnet-TSN audience average is 471,000, up 73 per cent from TSN's viewership at this point of the World Cup in France in 1998, a comparable European venue.

Game 7 audience

The CBC saved the best for last, drawing 4.739 million viewers for the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final on Monday.

That ranks as the network's fourth largest audience for a hockey game dating back to the introduction of Nielsen People Meters in 1989. The record is 4.957 million for the seventh game of the 1994 final between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers.

The Monday figure includes the audience for the Stanley Cup presentation and interviews, as well as the game.

From the dropping of the puck to the game-ending whistle, the audience was 5.553 million, peaking at 6.253 million between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. EDT. The 3.042 million audience average for this year's final is down from the 2004 final between the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning. The seventh game of that series drew 4.862 million and the average over seven games was 3.735 million. Still, the 2006 average over seven games ranks as the CBC's third best for a Cup final since 1989.

NBC's telecast of Game 7 earned a 3.3 overnight rating (percentage of U.S. households watching), a 21-per-cent drop from ABC's 4.2 for Game 7 of the 2004 final. NBC had an average rating of 2.3 for its five telecasts of the final, down 12 per cent from ABC's 2004 average. Some NBC affiliates didn't air Game 7 live. The network's Seattle station aired a tape-delay, and in Salt Lake City the game wasn't carried at all. whouston@globeandmail.com