NHL switches Winter Classic to nighttime start

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PITTSBURGH (AP) - The NHL is moving the Capitals-Penguins Winter Classic to a nighttime start to avoid predicted daytime rain in Pittsburgh.

The game, scheduled to start shortly after 1 p.m. EST on Saturday, has been moved to 8 p.m. It will be the first of the four Winter Classics to be played at night.

The NHL announced the switch Friday so the 67,000 fans _ about 20,000 from Washington _ had time to adjust their plans. Forecasters are calling for nearly an inch of rain before it lets up late in the day.

The game cannot be played in steady rain because it would significantly increase the risk of player injuries.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux never took their can-you-top-this rivalry outdoors, back to the purest form of hockey played on ponds instead of indoor palaces. Where whipping winds and a frozen shooting hand can influence the result as much as a hot goaltender.

So this must do: Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin, the sport’s two biggest names and rivals in every sense, playing the NHL’s showcase regular-season game before more fans than both teams once drew for extended homestands.

To Lemieux, the Winter Classic outdoor game Saturday pairing Crosby’s Penguins and Ovechkin’s Capitals before 67,0000 spectators at Heinz Field is perfect.

“It’s two different styles, two different eras but guys who are great players,” Lemieux said. “When he (Crosby) is doing is more impressive than what I did years ago.”

The weather? Anything but perfect.

Forecasts of daylong rain could delay the scheduled 1:28 p.m. EST start to the evening. The game must start by 8 p.m. so NBC can televise it.

Crosby likes the idea of a primetime classic.

“I don’t see anything wrong with playing under the lights here,” Crosby said. “I think that’d be pretty nice. We should all be enjoying ourselves no matter what the scenario.”

The league insists it’s planning to play Saturday, if only because a Sunday game would go head-to-head against regular season-ending NFL games. It also wouldn’t be played on the preferred New Year’s Day.

“As coaches and players, we don’t care if we go at midnight,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Let’s go.”

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