The seventh game victory was seen by about 8.5 million people on NBC, the Nielsen Co. said. That's the biggest audience since a 1973 playoff contest between Montreal and Chicago.
A winner-takes-all game between a Boston franchise that hadn't won professional hockey's championship in 39 years against a team that has never won the Stanley Cup proved a real draw, said Frank Brown, spokesman for the NHL.
"You had the international competition of a team based in Canada against the league's longest-standing U.S.-based team," Brown said. "You had the rivalry of an East Coast port city against a West Coast port city. You had two of our most passionate fan bases tweeting, blogging and Facebooking like crazy. The spotlight was bright and the energy was remarkable."
Sports on TV in general have been attracting bigger audiences in recent years with the rapid expansion of high-definition television and large-screen sets. That's a particularly important factor in hockey, where the greater clarity enables fans to follow the puck much more easily than in the past.
Still, hockey remains a relatively minor sport in the U.S.: That final game still finished behind a summer rerun of "NCIS" in the ratings.
It was a big week for NBC, with the "Miss USA" pageant finishing just out of Nielsen's top 10. Two talent competitions - "America's Got Talent" and "The Voice" - were the most-watched programs on TV last week, Nielsen said.
NBC, which averaged 6.3 million viewers in prime time last week (3.8 rating, 7 share), won the weekly ratings race for the first time since New Year's week. Then, the usually fourth-rated network benefited from two prime-time NFL games while most of its rivals were showing reruns.
CBS was second with a prime-time average of 6.1 million viewers (4.0, 7), ABC had 4.14 million viewers (2.6, 5), Fox had 4.1 million (2.5, 4), ION Television had 1.1 million (0.7, 1) and the CW had 860,000 (0.6, 1).
Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision led with a 3.6 million viewer average (1.8 rating, 3 share), Telemundo had 940,000 (0.5, 1), TeleFutura had 670,000 (0.3, 1), Estrella had 190,000 and Azteca had 180,000 (both 0.1, 0).
NBC's "Nightly News" topped the evening newscasts with an average of 7.5 million viewers (4.9, 10). ABC's "World News" was second with 6.9 million (4.6, 10) and the "CBS Evening News" had 5.4 million (3.6, 8).
A ratings point represents 1,147,000 households, or 1 percent of the nation's estimated 114.7 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.
For the week of June 13-19, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: "America's Got Talent" (Tuesday), NBC, 12.59 million; "The Voice," NBC, 12.34 million; "NCIS," CBS, 9.02 million; NHL Stanley Cup Finals: Boston vs. Vancouver, Game 7, NBC, 8.54 million; "The Mentalist," CBS, 8.26 million; "NCIS: Los Angeles," CBS, 8.11 million; "The Bachelorette," ABC, 7.88 million; "So You Think You Can Dance" (Wednesday), Fox, 7.59 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 7.57 million; "Hawaii Five-0," CBS, 7.56 million.
ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox and My Network TV are units of News Corp. NBC and Telemundo are owned by General Electric Co. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks. TeleFutura is a division of Univision. Azteca America is a wholly owned subsidiary of TV Azteca S.A. de C.V.