- Associated Press - Friday, December 31, 2010

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.”

None of the first three Winter Classics in Buffalo, Chicago or Boston were disrupted by the weather, but the NHL understood the inherent risk in taking an indoor game into the great outdoors.

“It’s part of what makes the game great,” NHL chief operating officer John Collins said.

So are Crosby and Ovechkin, obviously the feature attractions at midday or midnight. Crosby is scoring at a rate unseen since Lemieux had 161 points in the 1995-96 season; his 25-game scoring streak ended Wednesday but, with 65 points in 39 games, he’s on pace for 137 points.

At least this season, he’s eclipsed Ovechkin, who has slumped for extended stretches and is currently tied for sixth with 42 points.

To Lemieux, what Crosby is accomplishing to comparable to the NHL’s so-called golden era, when Gretzky once had 215 points in a season and Lemieux had 199. The numbers aren’t the same, but the game isn’t, either.

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