Emrick spices up Penguins’ series

Some sports fans think there’s nothing better than playoff hockey. Others might tell you there’s nothing more exciting than an overtime game during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For me, it’s about the team, the timing and the talent.

Once the playoffs begin, and if the Penguins remain alive, count me as interested. Before that, though, hockey exists pretty much as a channel to flip past between re-runs of “CSI” or college basketball.

However, when you get a Penguins-Capitals series, with super-strong Mike Emrick working the games on NBC and NBC Sports Network, it’s a recipe for the kind of live competition, and coverage, that makes sports fun.

That’s because Emrick is unparalleled in his preparation, which is complemented by his energetic and informative style.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs in the second round, featuring that Penguins-Capitals series that’s of special interest in our region, the games have moved from Root Sports to NBC and NBC Sports Network.

That’s a gain for fans because it puts play-by-play man Emrick behind the microphone. He’s among the best in the business in any sport. That’s because he keeps pace with game action and does so without any heavy-handed effort.

He’s fun and interesting, and it never sounds like he’s trying too hard. That all combines to produce quality sports television.

The third and fourth games in the series air at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday from PPG Paints Arena on NBC Sports Network.

Steelers’ schedule

After five 1 p.m. games to start the season, the Steelers’ schedule includes five prime-time games during a six-week span from late October to early December.

That span includes three appearances on Sunday Night Football (Oct. 29 at Detroit, Nov. 26 vs. Green Bay and Dec. 10 vs. Baltimore), one on Thursday Night Football (Nov. 16 vs. Tennessee) and one on Monday Night Football (Dec. 4 at Cincinnati).

Those five prime-time appearances provide a testament to the team’s popularity and it’s A-list standouts — especially on offense.

Still, those prime-time games are not a certainty. Because of the NFL’s flexible scheduling approach, if the Steelers slide a bit as the season progresses, or if some other team emerges as a surprise success, those scheduled night games could move back to afternoon kicks.

Derby data

Despite a slight dip in viewership last year, the Kentucky Derby guarantees some of the highest ratings and viewership among sports fans this coming weekend. When horses break from the gate at 6:34 p.m., some 15 million viewers will be watching on NBC.

Last year’s viewership was 15.5 million, down from 16 million the year before.

While horse racing might not be as popular as it was years ago, viewership the past five years of the two-minute event has been at its highest levels in the past 25 years on NBC.

In terms of coverage, the broadcast typically provides a mix of traditional and unnecessary or unusual.

The typical includes the race coverage itself, with the on-track action following a pattern that’s been familiar on TV for years. It’s typically a matter of cameras playing follow the leader.

The unnecessary or unusual come in the form of on-track interviews, with a media member on one horse shadowing the winner or other race protagonists and then trying to get answers.

Tuner tidbits

n Watch for Penn State’s highly ranked men’s lacrosse team to compete in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Thursday. The two games that day will air on the Big Ten Network, as will the championship game next Sunday.

n CBS Sports recently announced that Phil Simms would move to its gameday studio this season. Tony Romo recently displaced Simms on the network’s No. 1 game broadcast team and will work with Jim Nantz.

n While every day and every race move Dale Earnhardt Jr. closer to the end of his on-track career, they also push him closer to a broadcasting career. He might not move into the booth full time, but it’s a certainty he’ll find an on-air role covering races next season because of his popularity among fans.

n Be aware of age guidelines and type of humor because it’s not a show for everyone, but “Brockmire,” the IFC comedy built around a defrocked major league baseball play-by-play man working in the minors in Pennsylvania has more than its share of moments. Creator Hank Azaria, known for his voices on “The Simpsons,” plays the lead character. His approach and the show’s writing make the show strong.

Sampsell comments on TV and radio for the Mirror. He can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.