You saw the hashtags, the commercials and the t-shirts. We were all a little skeptical to believe it. If Saturday's ratings figures are to be believed, however, hockey is back.
NBC drew a massive (for hockey) 2.0 overnight rating for regional coverage of the Penguins and Flyers as well as the Kings and Blackhawks, which included the Kings' banner-raising ceremony. This was the best overnight rating for a regular season NHL telecast (not counting the Winter Classic) since Jan. 12, 2002. That day, ABC was airing regional coverage, led by Rangers-Flyers, which was Eric Lindros' return game to Philadelphia. That gives you an idea of how long it's been since we've seen NHL ratings this high.
As is often the case, the local markets won the day for the network and the league. Pittsburgh drew a bonkers-for-the-regular season 19.4 rating. That's an indoor record for an NHL game on NBC in the market. The same was true for Philadelphia (7.8) and Chicago (6.6). Los Angeles, which hosted it's banner-raising, drew a 1.5 in the market. That was the best in L.A. since 2007. While that might not seem too high, remember that not only is Los Angeles a huge market, the game was a blowout fairly early on.
In case you're curious, NBC's first broadcast out of the last lockout (obviously in a full, 82-game season) drew a 1.5 overnight with regional coverage -- led by Rangers-Red Wings -- on Jan. 14, 2006.
There'll be more on this story soon (an NBC Sports spokesperson told us the network is preparing a press release), but for now, we enjoy the news that hockey was able to find a way to capture the attention of a lot of people on Saturday, and all they had to do was put us through an agonizing lockout.
UPDATE: Some additional numbers have come in, per an NBC Sports press release.
Please note that NBC, by broadcasting it as a "pre-game show", counted the Kings' banner-raising as a separate program. That program drew a 1.4 overnight, which is pretty great, considering a 1.4 was the best rating NBC got for actual game coverage last season. The ceremony drew a 1.8 overnight in the Los Angeles market, suggesting that NBC's ratings might have been ever better had the Kings/Blackhawks game been competitive, rather than a blowout.
The Flyers/Penguins and Kings/Blackhawks actual game coverage (3:30-6 p.m. ET) drew a 2.0 overnight, and peaked at an eye-popping 2.9 later on in the day. The rating was up 67 percent over the NHL on NBC's average for the 2011-12 regular season. It was also up 82 percent from last year's comparable coverage (CHI vs. DET 1/14/12: 1.1 overnight).
Here are the top five local markets for NBC's coverage of the NHL yesterday:
1. Pittsburgh - 19.4/38
2. Philadelphia - 7.8/16
3. Chicago - 6.6/15
4. Buffalo - 6.6/13
5. Boston - 2.5/6
Top overnights for regular season games on NBC
1. Detroit vs. Chicago (1/1/09): 2.9
2. Washington vs. Pittsburgh (1/1/11): 2.8
t3. Pittsburgh vs. Buffalo (1/1/08): 2.6
t3. Philadelphia vs. Boston (1/1/10): 2.6
5. NY Rangers vs. Philadelphia (1/1/12): 2.4
6. Regional Coverage (PIT/PHI, CHI/LA on 1/19/13): 2.0
7. Regional Coverage (NYR/DET, COL/PHI, DAL/BOS on 1/14/06): 1.5
8. Regional Coverage (SJ/DET, PIT/BUF, STL/CHI on 2/19/12): 1.4