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Stanley Cup Playoffs cap off bounce-back year for NHL

There is "nothing in sport that can quite match" Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a “brilliant bounce-back year" for the NHL after COVID protocol seasons, according to Terry Jones of the EDMONTON JOURNAL. This year's first round has “given the NHL a massive rebound to the ‘normal’ special two weeks where hockey season peaks" six weeks before the actual Stanley Cup final. Seven of the eight series of this year's "exceptional experience that is the first round ... have gone to Game 6.” Throughout the first eight days of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, coverage on Hockey Night in Canada and Sportsnet “has reached a remarkable 15.1 million Canadian viewers” per day. Viewer reach is "up plus five per cent” versus ‘20 and “plus three per cent” over ‘21. Considering the impact the all-Canadian team North Division had on first-round numbers last season this season’s increase is “quite impressive.” And in the U.S., the numbers “have been nothing short of spectacular.” Through the first 32 games across ESPN, ESPN2, TNT and TBS they are “up 42 per cent” from ‘21 and “29 percent on cable” through the same number of games with the former TV partners. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “Our buildings are packed. We’re playing to at least 100 per cent capacity in all of our playoff games. Our TV ratings are up, particularly in the U.S. significantly. … Most important, our fans are back and connected” (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 5/13).

MORE GOALS: ESPN.com’s Greg Wyshynski wrote the NHL has "finally broken free of the stylistic stranglehold of ‘playoff hockey.’” Before the playoffs, everyone around the NHL wondered if the regular season's "astounding scoring rates -- 3.14 goals per team per game," the highest since the '95-96 season -- “would continue into the postseason.” The answer is an “emphatic ‘yes.’” Entering Wednesday night, teams “averaged 3.32 goals per team per game." If that holds for the rest of the first round, it would be the “highest opening-round average” since ’95. Wyshynski wrote that that the whole of the '22 Stanley Cup Playoffs is “significantly greater than the sum of their parts.” Six of eight first-round series going at least six games is something that “hasn't happened since 2015" (ESPN.com, 5/12).

REMEMBERING THE TIMES: In St. Louis, Ben Frederickson writes it is “easy to forget” that last postseason games were "played with half-sized crowds." Crowds of 9,000 saw the Blues "lose their home games." The Avalanche were “limited to fewer than 8,000” at their games. Frederickson: "After covering every sport in our area during the pandemic, I don’t think one was more affected atmosphere-wise by the pandemic-caused crowd limits and restrictions than hockey. Especially postseason hockey" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/13).

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