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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Stanley Cup Final: An Unlikely Game 7 Is Set to Cap the NHL’s Best Season

  • The Oilers are attempting to complete a comeback done just once in a Stanley Cup Final.
  • A big TV audience is expected, capping a series of advances for the league this season.
Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL is capping what has been perhaps its greatest season with the possibility of the most improbable of comebacks in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Oilers have forced a Game 7, to be played Monday night in Florida, against the Panthers after dropping the first three games of the series. Just four teams in NHL history have won a seven-game series after first falling to a 3–0 deficit, and just once has it happened in the Final. That was by the Maple Leafs in 1942, before the widespread adoption of television and when the NHL had just seven teams, so what Edmonton is attempting to do is unprecedented in modern history. 

But as historic as that would be, whoever wins the deciding game will conclude a series of significant gains for the NHL throughout the season. Among them:

  • A 36% boost in U.S. ratings for the Stanley Cup Final to an average of 3.6 million through the first six games. This year’s series has been aired on Disney’s ABC as opposed to last year’s cable-only coverage on Warner Bros. Discovery networks. But even accounting for that difference, the year-over-year audience gains have been significant
  • An average of 1.3 million U.S. viewers per game for the first three rounds of the playoffs, up by 14% from a year ago and the best such figure since 1996 
  • Record-level attendance in the regular season of 22.56 million, with games on average played to 97% venue capacity 
  • Another league record for annual revenue of $6.2 billion, boosted by that attendance total, as well as gains in media and sponsorship
  • The strong initial fan reception for the new Utah Hockey Club, contrasting sharply against rising turmoil for the former Coyotes franchise

Big Stakes

What had been looking like a drama-free wipeout of a series is now culminating in a Game 7 that is one of the most tension-filled settings in all of pro sports. Should the Oilers win, it would also represent the first NHL championship by a Canadian team since the Canadiens in 1993, and that 31-year drought is by far the longest in league history. But if the Panthers prevail, this would be their first title in league history, bringing what’s already been a comprehensive resurgence for the franchise both on and off the ice to a whole new level. 

The last Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final—in 2019 between the Blues and Bruins—drew an average TV audience of 8.7 million and set a mark as the most-watched NHL game on record, suggesting another big number to come Monday night.

“That’s actually what makes this whole thing awesome—the context of it,” said Panthers coach Paul Maurice. 

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