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NHL needs to capitalize on buzz from Games

After the epic USA-Canada gold-medal hockey game at the Vancouver Winter Games drew record television ratings in North America, the onus is on the NHL to continue its Olympic buzz.

"It's great to see fans of hockey — and I think they're passionate, a growing group — and when you see the numbers, you see the excitement, you see the drama that played out, you hope it continues," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "When you go back to '60 and then '80, I think there is a building that's happened within the game because of how it played on bigger stages like the Olympics. Hopefully, we look back and say: 'The game grew because of this.'"

While Canada was captivated by watching its countrymen capture Olympic gold in a 3-2 victory punctuated by Sidney Crosby's overtime goal — 80 percent of Canadians watched the game, an average of 16.6 million viewers — the momentum carried over this week to the NHL regular season.

It created what FSN Pittsburgh executive Ted Black called a "halo effect" for Tuesday's game between the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, which drew an 11.73 rating. It ranked second only to Mario Lemieux's comeback game in December 2000 in ratings for a regular-season game on FSN.

"The TV ratings were through the roof," Penguins winger Bill Guerin said, "so you've got to strike while iron is hot and get something done."

A free preview of NHL Center Ice, the out-of-market subscription package of live NHL games, was offered this past week to digital cable viewers, as was the league's Race For The Cup package for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs at a price of $79.90 or two payments of $39.95.

Crosby hasn't stopped answering questions about the Olympics and believes that the excitement surrounding the Winter Games could propel the NHL into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I think they did capitalize when you had Canada and the U.S., and you had that many people watching," Crosby said. "That says a lot about the direction of the sport, and that's a good sign for everybody. I don't think people ever thought hockey was struggling, but I think it's definitely getting better with things that are happening here."

FOUR IN PLAY

The four players who surprised Tribune-Review Penguins beat writer Rob Rossi the most at the Olympics:

1. Jaroslav Halak (Slovakia)

NHL team: Canadiens

» Better than any goalie not named Ryan Miller or Johan Hiller, and that was saying something.

2. Patrick Kane (USA)

NHL team: Blackhawks

» I saw USA Hockey's future, and its name is Patrick Kane.

3. Shea Weber (Canada)

NHL team: Predators

» The national stage opened my (and many) eyes to his all-around greatness.

4. Jaromir Jagr (Czech Republic)

NHL team: None

» Forget surprised; I can't believe he bounced up from Alex Ovechkin's hit in the preliminary round.

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