NEW YORK — The Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup-winning conquest of the Vancouver Canucks stands as the most-watched National Hockey League game on American television since 1973.
The seventh game victory was seen by about 8.5 million people on NBC, the Nielsen Co. said. That's the biggest audience since a 1973 playoff contest between Montreal and Chicago.
A winner-takes-all game between a Boston franchise that hadn't won professional hockey's championship in 39 years against a team that has never won the Stanley Cup proved a real draw, said Frank Brown, spokesman for the NHL.
"You had the international competition of a team based in Canada against the league's longest-standing U.S.-based team," Brown said. "You had the rivalry of an East Coast port city against a West Coast port city. You had two of our most passionate fan bases tweeting, blogging and Facebooking like crazy. The spotlight was bright and the energy was remarkable."
Sports on TV in general have been attracting bigger audiences in recent years with the rapid expansion of high-definition television and large-screen sets. That's a particularly important factor in hockey, where the greater clarity enables fans to follow the puck much more easily than in the past.
Still, hockey remains a relatively minor sport in the U.S.: That final game still finished behind a summer rerun of NCIS in the ratings.
It was a big week for NBC, with the "Miss USA" pageant finishing just out of Nielsen's top 10. Two talent competitions — America's Got Talent and The Voice — were the most-watched programs on TV last week, Nielsen said.
NBC, which averaged 6.3 million viewers in prime time last week (3.8 rating, 7 share), won the weekly ratings race for the first time since New Year's week. Then, the usually fourth-rated network benefited from two prime-time NFL games while most of its rivals were showing reruns.
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