They took us inside the brains of two NHL teams so we could see how they operate, how they function on a day-to-day basis -- at home, at the rink and even in the drive in between.
HBO Sports showed life in the National Hockey League in a way it has never been publicly seen before with "24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic," and Tuesday brought the announcement that seemed inevitable.
The critically-acclaimed, four-part documentary featuring the Penguins' cerebral coach Dan Bylsma and the Capitals' garrulous bench boss Bruce Boudreau received three Sports Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Edited Sports Special, Outstanding Post Produced Audio/Sound and The Dick Schaap Writing Award. HBO received 22 nominations in total.
The 32nd Sports Emmy Award winners will be announced May 2 in New York at the Frederick P. Rose Hall in the Time Warner Center.
During an interview with NHL.com prior to the airing of episode one on Dec. 15, HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg all but promised the series would bring home some hardware at the Sports Emmy Awards.
He did the on-camera interview from his plush corner office on the 11th floor of HBO's Sixth Avenue headquarters in New York. Greenburg pointed to the dozens of Sports Emmy Awards lining the shelves along the east facing wall and said he expected a few more to join the family.
HBO's "24/7" series has already brought home 12 Sports Emmy Awards.
"We'll be adding a few more with this one," Greenburg said.
"We really believe we're going to bring hockey to life," he added during the pre-show exclusive interview. "The NHL will come alive. I think the viewer and the fan and even the non-fan, the people that have not been exposed to the NHL, will certainly look at this game differently."
Greenburg was spot on.
The show took viewers to previously forbidden areas, such as the Capitals' dressing room in between periods of a game against Florida for Boudreau's passionate and R-rated motivational speech. The cameras caught Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland getting stitched up after a fight, Mike Rupp celebrating Christmas morning with his family and Bylsma shoveling his sidewalk like an everyday, working man.
We saw Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Maxime Talbot playing a video game on a team flight to Ottawa. A well-placed microphone on Alex Ovechkin caught him chatting with Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky seconds after the officials peeled them off one another during a game at Madison Square Garden. They were praising each other for literally fighting the good fight.
The NHL handed HBO a gift by putting the two featured teams on the same ice in D.C. on Dec. 23.
"That game is just set up perfectly for this series," Greenburg said.
The Capitals and Penguins handed HBO a gift by going in different directions at different times in the show.
Pittsburgh was in the middle of a 12-game winning streak when shooting began in early December while the Capitals were mired in an eight-game losing streak. Washington had it turned around by the end of the show.
Most importantly, the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Penguins and Capitals, the hook to the entire series, jumped off the screen in episode four. The dramatic effect grew with almost every raindrop that fell on Heinz Field that New Year's night.
Never before had HBO embedded its production crews with two sports teams in the middle of the regular season. The viewers were transfixed, and it translated into this year's Winter Classic being the most watched of the four, with an average of 6.6 million viewers tuning in to catch the prime time event. The previous best for a Winter Classic was the 5.7 million who watched in 2009.
"I can't tell you the number of times I've been told, 'Hey, my mother or my wife even watch this show because it got to them so much,' " Greenburg said. "Because, '24/7' is a reality-based show and the younger demo eats this stuff up, they can't get enough of it. I've got two 22-year olds and I can tell you. So, this is their format, they're comfortable with it, we've just injected hockey into the formula and they become NHL fans without even realizing it."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
The 32nd Annual Sports Emmy Awards nominations were announced today and '24/7' is a nominee for the following awards:
Outstanding Edited Sports Special
Outstanding post produced Audio/Sound
The Dick Schaap Writing Award
Also noteworthy, the NBC Sports Group received 25 total Sports Emmy Award nominations, including:
Outstanding Sports Personality, Play-by-Play: Mike Emrick
Outstanding Sports Promotional Announcement- Institutional, NHL Winter Classic – Classic Rivalry/Classic Spectacle (See video)
Go to www.emmyonline.org for a complete list of all nominations.
The 32nd Sports Emmy Award winners will be announced May 2, 2011 in New York City.