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NBC to Game 7: Fore!

All season long American television's biggest hockey showcase is NBC's weekend afternoon games.

Why then would the network not use that slot Sunday for a potential Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, rather than showing it at night on NBC Sports Network, which is seen in fewer homes?

Blame old golfers. The broadcast branch of the company is committed Sunday to showing the final round of the Senior PGA Championship.

If that doesn't seem like as good a reason to bump hockey from NBC as was The Players Championship two weekends ago . . . well, it isn't.

But the Senior PGA Championship is part of a larger programming deal that NBC has with the PGA of America, and this is one of the commitments that comes with it.

In fairness to NBC, there is no guarantee of a Game 7, so keeping that spot open just in case wasn't a feasible option.

If both conference finals had ended in five games or fewer, Game 1 of the finals might have started on NBC Sunday night. So why not show Game 7 of Rangers-Devils on NBC Sunday night?

It's a bit more complicated than that. As big as Game 7 would be for hockey fans, NBC's entertainment branch would not necessarily look at it that way and simply hand over its prime time slate to the sports division.

NBC's hockey deal is structured to put Games 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7 of the finals on the main broadcast network in prime time, but no more than that.

Fortunately for New York-area hockey fans - and the league itself - this market has among the highest levels of distrubition for NBC Sports Network anywhere in the country, so a vast majority of homes that care to watch a potential Game 7 will be able to.

Still, not having the game on NBC will limit its availability nationally.

Here is what NBC spokesman Chris McCloskey said when I asked him about a Game 7 being slated for NBCSN:

"We have long-term scheduling commitments on NBC that afternoon that cannot be moved. However, the game will be available on NBC Sports Network, which is the home of hockey in this country, and has deep penetration in the New York market.

"Our award-winning and critically-acclaimed production is the same regardless of which channel the game is on."

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