The Nashville Predators could be eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Monday night, facing a Game 6 against the Vancouver Canucks. Or they could forge ahead, force a Game 7 and continue their unlikely run at the Cup in 2011.
As of this moment, a Bolts/Preds Stanley Cup Final is a possibility, albeit remote. Mike Chen of SB Nation explored that possibility and surmised:
In the short term, a Stanley Cup Final of this nature would probably draw much lower ratings than last year's Chicago Blackhawks-Philadelphia Flyers battle. But despite a lack of national presence, it can plant many seeds in the local markets -- and as those seeds grow, more people are exposed to the game, and a certain percentage of those people will be swept up in it, some just to support the local team and others as die-hard hockey fans.
The "swept up in the postseason" thing should be happening already for these teams, although there's no question that a Cup Finals appearance and the accompanying fanfare would be a further boon. But is that worth a Cup Finals matchup that would repel a good number of hockey fans and large swaths of casual Cup watchers?
The Lightning and the Predators would play a series of close, low-scoring games whose most outstanding performers will be between the pipes. It would be a battle between a Southeast Division team and a team that should be in the Southeast Division. Red Wings vs. Penguins Part III, it is not.
We've been asked a few times which matchups are the most compelling for NBC and VERSUS, from the remaining playoff participants. Keeping in mind that the Vancouver Canucks would not contribute a single local ratings point to the national audience as a Canadian-based team, our ranking:
1. Boston Bruins v. Detroit Red Wings
2. Boston Bruins v. San Jose Sharks
3. Tampa Bay Lightning v. Detroit Red Wings
4. Boston Bruins v. Nashville Predators
5. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. San Jose Sharks
6. Boston Bruins vs. Vancouver Canucks
7. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Nashville Predators
8. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Vancouver Canucks
Again, this is from a U.S. television perspective. The Red Wings are a ratings engine on a different level than Boston, but the Bruins are going to have massive local viewership should they make the Finals: Witness their ratings vs. the Celtics' ratings this postseason. Plus, the Bruins' Cup drought (1972) vs. the Sharks' first trip to the Finals is an easy, effective sell.
Which series do you think would grab the biggest audiences for NBC and VERSUS; and which series do you think would offer the most exciting hockey and storylines for the Stanley Cup Finals?
UPDATE: A few readers have brought up the Yzerman factor for the Tampa Bay/Detroit series; do you think that could be sold as a national story for NBC? Is Thornton vs. the Bruins a national angle as well? Or are they both localized?