Warner Bros. Discovery Sports made a successful debut Saturday in its first Stanley Cup Final game.
Game 1 between the Golden Knights and Florida Panthers aired on TNT, TBS and truTV, where the games will continue for the duration of the series.
The network has no experience airing championship-round games in any of the four major sports, but they got ahead of the curve by bringing in a veteran group from the on-air personalities to the entire crew.
It showed. They were up for the challenge.
The camera angles and replays were on point, as were some of the finer details, such as a clean scorebug with a fixed shots on goal tracker, an overhead view used well to demonstrate how individual plays unfolded and a miles per hour tracker for slap shots.
The network even made sure to get up-to-date overhead images of the city for its transition shots instead of the outdated ones on another network that didn’t accurately reflect the traffic and construction around the arena.
But the personalities were where the broadcast truly shined.
Play-by-play voice Kenny Albert was steady and can be forgiven for a few cheesy Las Vegas analogies. Color commentator Eddie Olczyk was his usual outstanding self.
It didn’t take long to make a big splash on the broadcast.
When Albert asked for his potential X-factors in the series, Olczyk’s choice for the Knights proved almost prophetic.
“I’m looking at Shea Theodore, who I think has the ability to go to another level,” Olczyk said before the game. “If he can do that, it would be great for the Golden Knights.”
Theodore had an assist and scored his first goal of the playoffs. The goal also provided an opportunity for the broadcast to show off its cameras, capturing a perfect angle of Brett Howden blocking the vision of Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to allow the puck to get through.
That goal, which gave the Knights their first lead in the second period, was one of the best plays of the game. It was, however, outshined by goaltender Adin Hill making perhaps the best save of the postseason.
The network was ready to cover it.
After showing Hill’s spectacular second-period paddle save from every possible angle and at every possible speed, the crew scored even more points with where they took the coverage next.
The production team was ready almost immediately with highlights of a similar stop by Washington’s Braden Holtby from the Knights’ 2018 Stanley Cup Final series against the Capitals.
It also went to the next commercial break with the Atreyu hit “Epic,” which appeared to be a nod to Hill’s save.
The analysts also balanced their coverage by following up with a discussion of how the save was made possible by a poor attempt from Nick Cousins and wondering whether his confidence would be impacted long term. That was a key aspect of the play that deserved to be mentioned, and they didn’t avoid it.
Few subjects were off limits for the pregame and postgame shows, which aired from a party suite inside the arena.
While the network is clearly trying to create a hockey version of “Inside the NBA,” the crew isn’t nearly as entertaining as its basketball counterparts.
But the analysts do a good job of breaking down the key moments and narratives between periods and after the game.
They were also at their best before the game, when they were setting the stage for the main event at T-Mobile Arena.
A personality-driven pregame and postgame show thrives off that kind of energy, which outweighed any technical challenges that arose from broadcasting live programming in a full arena.
Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky is the biggest name on the show, but the unquestioned star is Paul Bissonnette. He is sharp and witty, and carries the kind of energy that brings everyone else up to his level.
But there is still work to do for the TNT crew.
There were microphone power issues during a live hit after the game that were cleaned up quickly.
Also, the audio mix might have been a bit off because the PA announcements were often drowning out the voices of those talking into the microphones.
But overall, it was a hat trick for the TNT crew.