People at NBC have often referred to the Montreal Canadiens as hockey's version of the Green Bay Packers. A market that, based on location (Green Bay is a small American market, and Montreal is obviously in Canada) should have no business drawing casual American eyeballs, but is capable of doing so given their storied history and spread out fanbase.
That theory proved it's mettle again on Wednesday, as the NBC Sports Network's telecast of the Canadiens tense showdown with the Boston Bruins drew 771,000 viewers. It marks the most-watched NHL game featuring a Canadian team on a cable network since 2000, when some guy named Mario Lemieux came out of retirement (that game drew 1.04 million on ESPN2 on Jan. 27, 2000). The Bruins-Habs game peaked between 8:45 and 9 p.m. ET with 1.04 million viewers. It even drew better ratings than VERSUS' Heritage Classic telecast in 2011 (608,000 viewers on Feb. 20, 2011).
The Bruins are certainly responsible for a lot of that. The game scored a 7.16 rating in Boston, which is huge. That's the second highest-rated NBCSN/VERSUS game in Boston ever. The only one to top it was the Bruins opening night game against the Flyers in October of 2011. Still, impressive that the Canadiens were able to produce a big audience themselves as well.
Through 10 broadcasts, the NHL on NBC Sports Network has averaged 478,000 viewers. Through 10 broadcasts last season (all in October), the NHL on VERSUS had averaged 297,000 viewers. The NHL on VERSUS/NBCSN averaged 332,000 viewers all of last season. 2013 marks the best 10-game start for the network (as NBCSN, VERSUS and OLN) since they acquired NHL rights in 2005.
2013 NHL on NBC Sports Network Viewership Figures
Sunday, Jan. 20
10 p.m. ET, Chicago vs. Phoenix - 260,000 viewers
Monday, Jan. 21
7:30 p.m. ET, Detroit vs. Columbus - 390,000 viewers
Tuesday, Jan. 22
7:30 p.m. ET, Philadelphia vs. New Jersey - 449,000 viewers
Wednesday, Jan. 23
7:30 p.m. ET, Boston vs. NY Rangers - 956,000 viewers
Sunday, Jan. 27
8 p.m. ET, Minnesota vs. St. Louis - 401,000 viewers
Tuesday, Jan. 29
7:30 p.m. ET, NY Islanders vs. Pittsburgh - 245,000 viewers
Wednesday, Jan. 30
8 p.m. ET, Chicago vs. Minnesota - 827,000 viewers
Monday, Feb. 4
9 p.m. ET, Dallas vs. Colorado - 176,000 viewers
Tuesday, Feb. 5
7:30 p.m. ET, Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia - 300,000 viewers
Wednesday, Feb. 6
7:30 p.m. ET, Boston vs. Montreal - 771,000 viewers