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Sports Media

Coverage has been slick

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / May 27, 2011

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A hat trick’s worth of thoughts on Bruins postseason coverage while we wait to learn whether their next destination is Vancouver or vacation . . .

There was a palpable buzz and an admirable lack of gloating among station personnel earlier this month when the April Arbitron ratings revealed that 98.5 The Sports Hub had beaten WEEI overall in the crucial men 25-54 demographic while dominating the younger demos.

While the monthlies are not nearly as significant as the quarterly Arbitron ratings — the three-month spring book will be available July 13 — they were justifiably satisfying for Sports Hub programming director Mike Thomas, who attributed the superb numbers to one primary reason.

“This is a hockey town,’’ said Thomas. “The Bruins deliver ratings and we have finally given fans a home.’’

To its credit, WEEI has ditched the patronizing “you’re on Hockey Talk’’ attitude, utilizing guests such as Barry Melrose, Andy Brickley, Jack Edwards, and the Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont — not to mention deposed-midday-host-turned-utilityman Dale Arnold — with entertaining and informative results.

But it’s also true that its approach, or lack thereof, toward the Bruins through the years gave the competition an opening. In a sense, using the Bruins as a punch line for so many years has become a self-fulfilling prophecy; one industry source said that when “Big Show’’ host Glenn Ordway would make an honest effort to talk hockey, the in-studio screen that shows text messages would be flooded with comments mocking the Bruins.

WEEI is late to the bandwagon, and despite recent reminders that Ordway was once part of the Bruins’ radio broadcast team, its hosts don’t discuss hockey as convincingly or thoroughly as their counterparts on The Sports Hub, the Bruins’ flagship station.

In fact, Monday night, The Sports Hub delivered perhaps the most compelling Bruins-centric radio segment heard on Boston radio in years. On the pregame show before the 3-1 win over the Lightning in Game 5, host Damon Amendolara and the broadcast team of Dave Goucher and Bob Beers were joined by Bruins legends Raymond Bourque and Phil Esposito.

The result was a conversation so engrossing that one wouldn’t have minded if the game were delayed a few minutes just to let them share a few more anecdotes.

Bourque, who in interviews can be about as exciting as a neutral-zone trap, was engaging, even delivering a fun item of trivia when he reminded listeners that he actually wore three jersey numbers as a Bruin. (He wore No. 29 in the preseason of his rookie year, so if you spot anyone in the Garden tonight wearing a No. 29 Bourque jersey, you’ve spotted a diehard among diehards).

But it was the habitually frank Esposito who gave the interview its compelling edge, not just for what he said during the 18-minute conversation, but for what he had said a few days earlier. During a May 11 interview with a Fox television station, Esposito, now the Lightning’s radio color analyst, said he couldn’t “give one damn about Boston. I don’t care about Boston.’’

Naturally, his comments caught Boston fans by surprise. While Esposito has been associated with the Lightning longer than he played with the Bruins — he was Tampa Bay’s first general manager and president, helping build the organization from scratch in the early ’90s — his legend in Boston endures. He was one of the stars of the beloved Big, Bad Bruins teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1970 and ’72.

For Bruins fans, it was disappointing to hear him speak with such disdain. During the interview Monday, he explained, with more than a hint of emotion, where he was coming from. He said he never understood why Bruins general manager Harry Sinden didn’t tell him in person he had been traded to the New York Rangers during the 1975-76 season.

“I didn’t choose to leave, they traded me,’’ said Esposito, who got the word from a pajama-clad coach Don Cherry in his hotel room. “It was shock to my system and it took me a long time to get over it.’’

Esposito said, without offering specifics, that his relationship with the Bruins has been dented a bit in recent years, but that the franchise and the city still matter to him . . . just not as much, at the moment, as Tampa Bay does.

“If the Lightning weren’t playing the Bruins, I’d be cheering for the Bruins in a heartbeat,’’ he said.

Now that’s the kind of hockey talk Bruins fans have desired all along.

No matter whether the remote stops on NESN or Comcast SportsNet New England, coverage of the Bruins’ playoff run has been comprehensive and of high quality.

NESN’s Brickley might be the best analyst of any sport in the market, whether he’s in studio or alongside Edwards. And Kathryn Tappen remains as professional as always in the anchor chair even though, according to industry sources, NESN has already interviewed potential replacements in anticipation of her expected departure to the NHL Network.

But CSNNE deserves kudos for using its affiliation with Comcast and NBC to worthwhile effect, particularly in showing extended postgame press conferences. Mike Giardi and Joe Haggerty are a knowledgeable tandem, and the in-studio pairing of Michael Felger and Tony Amonte has worked from the get-go, with the affable former NHL star seeming genuinely amused by Felger’s opinionated perspective.

The Bruins continue to be ratings gold for Versus. Game 6 Wednesday night earned a 16.4 household rating in Boston, the highest ever in the market for an NHL game on Versus. How impressive is that? According to Nielsen, in the 8-10.15 p.m. window, it beat the “American Idol’’ finale on Fox by 9 percent, 16.8 to 15.4. Take that, Seacrest.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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