Often snubbed by NBC, Hurricanes have been a TV ratings bonanza

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Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (20) celebrates after scoring on Boston Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask (40) to tie the score 1-1 during the first period in Game One of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday.

Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho (20) celebrates after scoring on Boston Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask (40) to tie the score 1-1 during the first period in Game One of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday. rwillett@newsobserver.com

For a team that gets about one national television appearance a decade, the Carolina Hurricanes’ run through the playoffs has turned out to be a ratings bonanza for NBC and its cable networks.

NBC announced Friday that Thursday night’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, a 5-2 Boston Bruins win, checked in with a 1.71 overnight rating on NBCSN, the highest for a conference-final Game 1 in NBCSN history and a 53 percent increase over last year’s Game 1 between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.

The opponent had something to do with that: The game did a 14.8 overnight in Boston. But in the Raleigh-Durham market, the 8.1 overnight was the second-highest on record for NBCSN, trailing Game 7 of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals (10.3).

Boston was the No. 2 market for NBC going into the conference finals, with Providence, R.I., No. 4, but Raleigh was No. 9, ahead of Las Vegas and seven other U.S. markets with teams in the playoffs. Of the eight ahead of Raleigh, only No. 5 Columbus has had an NHL team for fewer years than the Triangle.

Fox Sports Carolinas, which televised five games in the first round locally, did not immediately respond to a request for ratings information.

AHO UPGRADE While Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Friday that his team came out of Thursday’s game in good shape generally speaking, he did acknowledge that Sebastian Aho, who has scored in three straight games, was one of the players who benefited from the five days off.

Aho was back in the faceoff circle Thursday night on a limited basis, taking 11 faceoffs after taking a total of 15 in the four games of the second round and 30 in the final four games of the first round. He took 48 over the first three games of the playoffs before cutting back sharply.

Aho had five points in the first nine games of the playoffs. He has that many in the past three. But Aho’s line with Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov was largely stymied five-on-five by the Bruins defensive pairing of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo, and Brind’Amour made it clear he still expected more from the team’s leading scorer in the regular season.

“I don’t know how good he was last night, but he was better,” Brind’Amour said. “The rest did him – he needed it. He needed a little break. He’s been pushed pretty hard all year and he had a few nicks that healed up. I would hope he would continue to get better as the series goes on.”

RUSSIAN MULE Svechnikov’s elevation not only to the Hurricanes’ top line but the (nominal) No. 1 power-play unit Thursday produced a goal, his pass from the left circle setting up Aho’s deflection in front for the Hurricanes’ first goal.

“It’s new to him, being with that group and in that spot,” Brind’Amour said. “There are a lot of new things we’re throwing at him, but we’re in the do-or-die mode now. We’ve got to put the best guys out there, and they’ve got to figure it out.”

The player Jordan Staal called “the Russian mule” on Wednesday has seen his role continue to increase throughout the season and even more since his return from a concussion in these playoffs. In his very limited playoff experience, Svechnikov has three goals and two assists in six games.

“The biggest growth I think is his confidence to play at this level,” Brind’Amour said. “We all saw his ability on Day 1. He can skate as well as anybody. He can shoot as well as anybody. He sees the ice extremely well. But when you’re a kid you don’t really know you can do these moves or play with the big boys, and over the course of the year we’ve given him a little more responsibility and you can see he doesn’t look out of place.”

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.