The first round of the NHL playoffs was a big hit. The second round has a shot to be even better.
The league’s first round wrapped up Wednesday night with three Game 7s on the same day for the first time since 2003 and just the fifth time ever.
It was must-see TV for many people.
Games on NBC averaged 2.184 million viewers, up 39 percent from a year ago. Matchups on cable – on the NBC Sports Network and CNBC – averaged 32 percent more than a year ago with an average of 518,000 people tuning in for each game.
Here are five things to watch when in the next wave of games gets going, with storied teams, big stars and major markets all in play:
ORIGINAL SIXES: Montreal and Boston, two of the league’s original six franchises, had wait a bit to start their second-round series because they eliminated previous opponents so quickly. The Canadiens were off for more than a week after being the only team to earn an opening-round sweep against Tampa Bay. The Bruins had a four-day break after beating Detroit in five games. It could be worth the wait: The Canadiens are the only Canadian team that made the playoffs, and they’ve got more Stanley Cup banners hanging in the rafters than any other franchise. The Bruins are a hard-hitting, smooth-skating, shot-blocking team that many predict will reach the Stanley Cup finals again.
FREEWAY SERIES: The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, who play in arenas about 30 miles apart, are meeting for the first time in the playoffs. For two franchises that seem to have more of a rivalry with the San Jose Sharks, that might change soon because players on both sides expect an emotionally charged series to heat things up. It will be interesting to find out who the Ducks put in net because they’re not saying, and they’ve got two options. Jonas Hiller, a veteran who came in and saved Game 6 against Dallas (and shut down the Kings in Dodger Stadium this season) might sit again behind 24-year-old Frederik Andersen, who had an up-and-down series against the Stars.
BIG STARS, MAJOR MARKETS: The NHL has to be thrilled with the teams and stars that advanced to the second round. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles all have teams still skating and that will help TV ratings. Smaller-market teams like Pittsburgh and Minnesota have plenty of star power, with Sidney Crosby leading the Penguins and the Wild seeing dividends from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, signed two years ago to mega contracts.
CHICAGO’S CHANCE: The Blackhawks appear to have gotten a break when Minnesota rallied to eliminate Central Division-champion Colorado, giving the defending champions home-ice advantage against the Wild. Chicago looks like it might be the team to beat against anyone, anywhere the rest of the way. The Blackhawks have plenty of scorers up front, two-way defensemen and Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Corey Crawford. They have a legitimate chance to win the Cup for the third time in five years, which would be an impressive feat in the league’s salary cap era.
THE STATE’S STAR: Minnesota’s Game 7 win against Colorado in which the Wild didn’t lead until overtime gave the state’s passionate fan base something to cheer about. Minnesota has not had a professional team other than the Vikings advance in the playoffs since the Timberwolves did it in 2004, a year after the Wild’s run to the conference finals. Minnesota’s win over the Avalanche drew a record 16.37 rating on FoxSports North.
AP Sports Writers Greg Beacham and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://twitter.com/larrylage