HNIC hopes fans have good Sens

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

The numbers suggest it will be the biggest of uphill climbs -- that there's no way Hockey Night in Canada can get close to the four million-plus viewers it enjoyed for Game 7s in the past two Stanley Cup finals, which featured the Edmonton Oilers (last year) and Calgary Flames (2004).

But Joel Darling senses a country that thirsts for a return of the Cup for the first time in 14 years might get behind an Ottawa Senators team that hasn't yet captured a nation's attention.

"Our hope is the numbers will go way up," Darling, Hockey Night's executive producer, said. "Now that (the Senators) have made the final and there's a really good chance they could bring the Cup back to Canada, I think people across the country will want to watch."

The Sens have yet to draw an audience in excess of two million for any game. The Oilers and Flames had already done that by this point in their Cup runs.

Much has been written about the indifference fans in Toronto have shown toward the Senators. It's probably safe to say the West isn't on board in great numbers. But Darling believes -- perhaps because he has to -- that patriotism will prevail.

THREE ISN'T A CROWD: In a HOCKEY NIGHT first, CBC will have a three-man booth for the final. Greg Millen joins Harry Neale as a second analyst alongside play-by-play man Bob Cole. "Greg did the first two Ottawa series, and he did the last one out West with the Ducks, so he's familiar with both teams," Darling said ... Noise alert: NBC's Brett Hull joins Don Cherry on COACH'S CORNER during Game 3. Then Cherry gets to drop his bombs for NBC viewers in the second intermission of Game 4 ... Also new for CBC: Weekday half-hour pre-game shows for Games 1, 2 and 7.

MAKES SENS TO THEM: For a change, the HOCKEY CENTRAL panel is in agreement. Nick Kypreos, Gord Stellick, Bill Watters and John Garrett all pick the Senators to win the Cup final, and captain Daniel Alfredsson to take the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP. That result, Garrett said, "will crush the fans of the other Ontario team." Gee, wonder who that would be?

AROUND THE DIAL: TSN has inked a four-year deal for French Open tennis coverage. A total of 75 hours of airtime is being devoted to this year's event beginning Sunday at Roland Garros ... Sportsnet airs the Memorial Cup final Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.


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