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usual suspects

Maybe it was the lack of competition from an NBA playoff game. Maybe it was the lack of American Idol for the first time since January. Maybe it was nostalgia for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Whatever the answer, U.S. TV viewers refuted the notion that the Vancouver Canucks were going to be poison for U.S. ratings on the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

Game 1 on NBC produced the best rating for a Game 1 in 12 years. The broadcast produced a 2.75 rating and 5 share. That was up 17 per cent compared to last year's highly rated Philadelphia-Chicago matchup between the Nos. 3 and 4 U.S. media markets. It was the best Game 1 since Buffalo-Dallas in 1999, which garnered a 3.7 on Fox.

Not surprisingly, the New England market powered the numbers. (Top five U.S. cities: Boston with a 25.5 rating and 39 share, Providence, Buffalo, Hartford, Pittsburgh.) According to NBC, it was the highest-rated NHL game in Boston since at least 1995. It also topped the Boston rating for last year's Game 1 of the NBA final featuring the hometown Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers (19.1/34). Which might be why the Red Sox have moved their Saturday game to the afternoon so the chowder-heads can see both their teams play.

How surprising is the U.S. rating with a Canadian team in the final? Ottawa was the last Canadian team in a final, in 2007. NBC says the 3.2 overnight rating for last night's game is 113-per-cent higher than the first network broadcast of that series, when the Senators faced the Anaheim Ducks.

Power to the people

It's less of a surprise that CBC produced enormous ratings for Game 1. With a Canadian team involved and an 8:25 ET puck drop to keep eastern Canadians from wandering, the game produced the highest-rated NHL viewership in the history of Hockey Night In Canada with average audience of 5.6 million and a peak of 7.8 million.

That squashed the previous record of 4.96 million, set in the 1994 Game 7 final between the Canucks and the New York Rangers. In fact, it only trails the 2002 Olympic gold-medal game between Canada and the United States (8.96 million) as the highest-rated sports program in CBC history. (The 2010 Vancouver gold medal on CTV is the top televised sports event in history with an average audience of 16.6 million.) Expect to see CBC improve its Game 1 rating if Vancouver gets to a clinching game against Boston.

Start the presses

Should the Canucks win the Stanley Cup, we could see the emergence of a new sports magazine in Canada to celebrate the accomplishment. Sources tell Usual Suspects that Rogers Sportsnet plans to expand its brand this year with the production of a sports magazine, the first such domestic mainstream attempt. The first edition of the Sportsnet-branded product could appear as soon as four days after the end of the final series.

Typically, starting a new magazine is fraught with problems getting shelf space and distribution. But Rogers, which runs publications ranging from Maclean's to Chatelaine to Lou Lou, is well positioned to distribute and rack a new publication via its established networks. The unnamed magazine will feature the Sportsnet handle in its title. We're told that no editor has been hired yet. But Sportsnet does have a range of available staff writers to fill the space around the staples.

They like us

Game 1 caught some tweet love from a few big U.S. media types. Syndicated radio host Jim Rome whipped up his clones via Twitter: "I'll say it again. Nothing like the NHL postseason. You're slacking if you're not watching Game 1. Throw it on now: 0-0, 3rd period." Then, "Bam! Vancouver 1 Boston 0. Kesler starts it, Torres finishes it. Thanks for coming."

And ESPN resident wit Bill Simmons was working it out on his @Sportsguy33 Twitter account as his beloved Bruin Patrice Bergeron got chomped by Alexandre (call me Alex) Burrows. "The biting incident was the catalyst I needed to get my son into hockey. He loves biting people. This is great." He was less impressed by Cam Cole's admonishment of Bergeron in the Vancouver Province. " 'Come on, Patrice Bergeron. Get your tetanus shot and move on.' Gotta love Vancouver homer journalism."

Followed by "The Bruins have battled Guy Boucher + Alain Vigneault in consecutive rounds. I feel like the NHL is making these names up."

Manitoba mystery

So the new Winnipeg squad says it will name its team after it satisfies its 13,000 season-tickets drive. Is there something it doesn't want the newbies to know? Or put this way, how many Manitobans might stay their paying hand if the team is called Polar Bears?

Tough talk

Guess not everyone is thrilled by Winnipeg returning to the Ligue Nationale de Hockey. Buffalo radio host Mike Schopp, for instance, tweeted: "I don't give a crap about Winnipeg. I doubt ESPN is shipping reporters there. Atlanta didn't support them? Fine. Then contract them."

Take a Number

The derailer for controversial cyclist Lance Armstrong is stuck in denial these days. The latest example is his assault on CBS's 60 Minutes, which punctured Armstrong's credibility and tires in a scathing item about Armstrong's alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs.

CBS News chairman Jeff Fager was having none of it. " 60 Minutes stands by its story as truthful, accurate and fair. Lance Armstrong and his lawyers were given numerous opportunities to respond to every detail of our reporting for weeks prior to the broadcast and their written responses were fairly and accurately included in the story."

"Mr. Armstrong's lawyers claim our story was 'shoddy,' while we found at least three inaccuracies in their letter: They claimed that 60 Minutes reported the meeting took place at the Swiss lab; they claimed that 60 Minutes reported the meeting took place in 2001; and they claimed that 60 Minutes said it was a "secret" meeting. … All three are wrong."

Strongly worded memo to follow. And hey … Livestrong.

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