NBC Counting on 'Original Six' to Drive Stanley Cup Final Ratings

The National Hockey League’s championship matchup features two of its most storied — and oldest — franchises, and the league hopes viewers’ nostalgia will continue its post-lockout ratings momentum.

As NBC drops the puck on the 2013 edition of the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night, it will do so featuring two of the league’s “Original Six” franchises in the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins. The “Original Six” made up the league for its first 25 years of existence.

As in previous years, NBC and NBCSN will split coverage, with Games 1 and 4-7 on NBC and Games 2 and 3 on NBCSN.

Despite a five-month lockout that nearly iced the entire season, NBC and NBCSN saw double-digit increases in viewership for both the regular season and the first three rounds of the playoffs (sound familiar?).

This will mark the first time since 1979 that two “Original Six” teams will face off for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

“The Original Six has a little extra pizazz to the Stanley Cup Final,” said Eddie Olczyk, NBC’s booth analyst, during a conference call to promote NBC Sports Group’s coverage.

Seven of the most-watched eight regular-season games ever on NBCSN featured either the Bruins or the Blackhawks; the Bruins played in the net’s most-watched regular season ever. NBC’s coverage of the March 3 game between the Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings was the most-watched regular-season single-game telecast on NBC (excluding Winter Classics).

NBC should also benefit locally as both markets feature Comcast-owned regional sports networks, with CSN Chicago and CSN New England providing extensive pre and post-game coverage. The Blackhawks — whose games air on CSN Chicago — finished with a final regular-season TV average of a 5.38 HH rating, the best in the history of Chicago regional sports television, and a 73% increase over last season.

Like the other leagues, the NHL banks on the popularity of its marquee franchises that are flush with history. However, unlike the NBA, MLB and NFL, hockey relies much more heavily on its die-hard fan base. Having two teams that are not only staples in their respective cities, but also resonate with nationwide fans should drive ratings.

“In these two cities in particular, they will appreciate the history,” added play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick. “It’s passed down by generation. These fan bases are solid.”

Last year, despite featuring teams from the country’s top two DMAs, the five-game Stanley Cup Finals between the L.A. Kings and New Jersey Devils drew just over three million viewers, down 34% from the previous year.

This year’s edition — especially if goes six or seven games — should pace well above that.