The National Hockey League and ticket brokers alike are well-positioned for a second consecutive memorable postseason.
The NHL playoffs got underway last week and almost half the games played through Sunday, April 15 — seven of 16 — have gone to overtime while a remarkable 12 games have been decided by one goal. Only two games have been decided by more than two goals.
Despite the tightly-paced nature of the games, two of the eight quarterfinal series are on the verge of completion with the lower-seeded team pulling a sizable upset. The fifth-seeded Philadelphia Flyers lead the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins three games to none in an Eastern Conference series (the Flyers have recorded both routs in the playoffs thus far by winning Games Two and Three by a combined 16-9) while the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings are also up three to none on the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks in a Western Conference series.
Such competitiveness and unpredictability bodes well for the NHL’s hopes of matching or exceeding the drama of last spring, when seven of the 15 series went the maximum seven games, including the Stanley Cup Finals between the champion Boston Bruins and runner-up Canucks.
The Bruins-Canucks Finals matchup — between two affluent, Cup-starved cities on opposite ends of the continent — was a dream one for brokers. There’s a long way to go, of course, before this year’s Finals squads are determined, but with a good mix of marquee franchises and upstarts vying for the most treasured trophy in sports, there are plenty of juicy possibilities whetting the appetite of fans and brokers alike.
Four of the league’s “Original Six” franchises — the teams that preceded the NHL’s first round of expansion in 1967 — are in the playoffs: the Bruins, New York Rangers in the East, the Chicago Blackhawks, and Detroit Red Wings in the West.
The Rangers are the top seed in the East (and are tied with the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators at a game apiece in their quarterfinal) as they seek their first title since the cathartic 1994 championship that briefly turned hockey into an American sensation. They are trying to become the third straight “Original Six” team to win it all and the fourth in five years. The Blackhawks won in 2010 while the Red Wings hoisted the Cup in 2008.
In addition, four of the NHL’s first wave of expansion teams are also competing for the Cup in the Penguins, Flyers, Kings, and St. Louis Blues. While the Penguins have won it all three times — including in 2009 — and feature the best player in the game in Sidney Crosby, the other three teams are all trying to snap extended championship droughts.
The Flyers haven’t won the Cup since 1975, though they have lost in the Finals six times since then, while both the Kings and Blues are seeking their first NHL championship. The Blues, who are in the playoffs for just the second time in the last seven seasons, are the second seed in the Western Conference and are tied at a game apiece with the seventh-seeded San Jose Sharks.
Brokers in Pennsylvania are getting a taste of Cup-esque interest with the Flyers-Penguins series. The pairing of the longtime bitter rivals generated plenty of demand in Philadelphia even before the Flyers stormed out to their 3-0 lead.
“[Demand has] been really good since the Penguins draw,” Kevin White of Philadelphia-based Wanamaker Ticket Office told TicketNews. “After that first win in Pittsburgh, the demand has been through the roof.”
A search of StubHub.com today, April 16, revealed just 268 tickets available for Game Four of the series Wednesday, April 18 at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. The least expensive ticket: a $240 seat in the mezzanine high above the ice.
“A lot of it has to do with it being the Penguins and the hatred between the two teams,” White said. “If it was Ottawa, it would be good, but it wouldn’t be like it is [now].”
Nationally, meanwhile, interest in the playoffs should rise over the next several weeks thanks to the NHL’s TV deal with NBC, which will air every game live on NBC, NBC Sports Network, or CNBC. This year marks the first time each playoff game has been aired live in its entirety.
According to the NHL, Game Three of the Flyers-Penguins series on Sunday, April 15 drew an overnight rating of 2.3, which was the best rating for any non-Finals game in the last 10 years. USA Today reported viewership of the Flyers-Penguins game was up 77 percent over a nationally telecast Rangers-Washington Capitals playoff game last year.
“Broadcasting every game this year is helping,” White said. “Definitely getting a lot more viewers, so I think that has an impact on [ticket interest] as well.”