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Versus pulls big numbers with Sabres vs. Rangers

This is what I'm thinking:

*The rating for the Buffalo Sabres' second-round opener with the New York Rangers on Versus Wednesday was more shocking than any comment made by the Rangers' Sean Avery.

The game had a 25.2 rating, which is about 2 1/2 times what the Sabres' first-round series with the New York Islanders averaged on MSG even though it was competing with a two-hour edition of "American Idol" (15.9).

The Versus rating appears to confirm what local researchers have suggested -- that the Sabres ratings on MSG have been badly underreported. The ratings might increase slightly in the second round, but not by that much when the channel doesn't carry Rick Jeanneret and Jim Lorentz.

The Sabres' clinching victory over the Islanders on April 20 had only a 9.3 rating, which was lower than the average of the previous four games. The Sabres averaged a 7.0 rating during the regular season, up about 35 percent from the 5.2 they averaged a year ago.

*The Versus announcers, Joe Beninati and Darren Eliot, were very complimentary of the Sabres. Still, they were a bit exasperating during the five-minute instant replay delay before Jason Pominville's goal finally was declared good.

It was hard to understand what they were predicting. The replay clearly showed that the puck went into the net before it came off its moorings, and if it went off Pominville's glove instead of his stick it wasn't intentional.

*Sabres fans saw one benefit of playing the Rangers on Wednesday. The Rangers' postgame show aired on MSG and included an interview with the Sabres' Derek Roy and the news conferences by the two coaches. Some might prefer to see Kevin Sylvester and Mike Robitaille, but the Rangers show gives fans a different point of view. The importance of the first period injury to Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival was emphasized.

*One of the mysteries in the Sabres clincher over the Islanders was a graphic that some viewers thought said the Islanders were ahead, 8-1, during the several minutes that the picture was lost. Game producer Joe Pinter explained the 8-1 graphic referred to the seeding of the teams. The Sabres were seeded first, the Islanders eighth. By the way, if the Sabres advance to the third round, all the games air either on Versus or NBC.

*The Buffalo area greeted the NBA playoffs on ABC with a collective yawn last weekend. The game a week ago between Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and the defending champion Miami Heat versus the Chicago Bulls had a lowly 1.3 rating on WKBW-TV. As bad as that was, it actually outdrew Sunday's coverage of Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. That had a 1.1 rating.

Meanwhile, NBC's coverage of NHL playoff games on Channel 2 last weekend did more than three times better than ABC's coverage of the NBA playoffs on Channel 7 here.

Detroit's victory over Calgary a week ago had a 3.3 rating on Channel 2, while New Jersey's series victory over Tampa Bay had a 3.9 rating on Sunday.

Nationally, the results were almost the complete opposite with the NBA games getting overnight ratings of 3.9 and 2.8 and the NHL getting overnight ratings of 1.3 and .9.

Even early season baseball is more popular than playoff basketball here.

The Yankees' Friday loss to Boston on its YES Network had a 1.8 a week ago, its loss on Saturday had a 3.5 rating on WUTV and its loss on Sunday had a 3.0 on ESPN. By the way, ESPN reports that the Yanks-Sox game was the most viewed (not highest-rated) Sunday night game ever.

*NBC has to be thrilled that Detroit and the Rangers have made it to Round Two of the NHL playoffs. It needs big market teams to juice the ratings. The Sabres undoubtedly are riding the Rangers' coattails for Sunday's NBC broadcast. The nightmare scenario for NBC would be a Vancouver-Ottawa finale.

*It is hard to argue with Channel 7's decision to drop "Sportsnite," the nightly sports show it carried on WNGS. On the first three nights of its last week, it never went higher than a .3 rating on a week the Sabres were in the playoffs and the Bills were preparing for today's NFL draft.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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