Please recall that NBC is making some significant changes to its Stanley Cup playoffs coverage this season, broadcasting Games 1 and 2 of the finals before Versus picks up the action for Games 3 and 4 (meaning a sweep would have the Cup awarded on the buck-huntin'/cage-fightin' channel); NBC has Games 5, 6 and 7 if necessary.
According to the schedule released on NBC Sports' Web site, the adventurous modifications don't end there: NBC will broadcast Game 1 of the finals on Friday, June 5 and Game 2 of the finals on Saturday, June 6 -- back-to-back games to open the NHL's championship round. Not only that, but Game 6 will air at 5 p.m. EST on Sunday, June 14. The schedule:
Friday, June 5: Stanley Cup finals, Game 1, 8 p.m. ET
Saturday, June 6: Stanley Cup finals, Game 2, 8 p.m. ET
Friday, June 12: Stanley Cup finals, Game 5, 8 p.m. ET
Sunday, June 14: Stanley Cup finals, Game 6, 5 p.m. ET
Tuesday, June 16: Stanley Cup finals, Game 7, 8 p.m. ET
Steve Lepore of Puck The Media, who broke the story, offers his analysis:
First of all, Games 6 & 7 will air on the same nights as a potential Game 5 & 6 of the NBA Finals on ABC. Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals' 5 PM ET airtime cancels out its challenge with Game 5 of the NBA Championship series, which airs at 8 PM ET. But there is that Game 7 on the Tuesday night at close to the same time as an NBA Game 6. How hard will Gary Bettman get hammered when this comes to fruition?
Another problem. You saw that the Conference Finals will at least be at Game 4 or 5 by May 24th. That means there will be a minimum of six days between a Game 7 of a Conference Final and Game 1 of the Stanley Cup. There could be as many as TWELVE days!
OK, so there are some drawbacks. But here's the thing: If the plan is to launch the finals in a more dramatic way by starting them on broadcast television before shifting them to cable, then back-to-back games is a brilliant way to do it. We're in a television age of loyalty through repetition: "American Idol" shows on consecutive nights; reruns and game shows in syndication that we can find consistently at the same time, on the same channel. NBC has turned the start of the Finals into a two-night event.
Also strong is the 5 p.m. EST start time for Game 6, which of course means an afternoon game for the West Coast. The third period will be in one of the best hours for weekend broadcast prime time on the East Coast, when people are flipping between "60 Minutes" and the end of their sporting event of choice. Game 6 could be the definitive game of the series; the NHL and NBC have positioned it to snag a lot of casual sports fan eyes.
But that's just our at-first-glance opinion. What is yours?
Pass or Fail: NBC's 2009 Stanley Cup finals television schedule?
UPDATE: The NHL checks in to remind us that there are a lot of factors at play here, so "there is no way to determine the minimum number of days from the end of the Conference Finals and the start of the Cup Final."
Thanks to The Sports Hernia for the Pierre/Milbury portrait.