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|Marc-Andre Fleury said: "The ice was a little maybe softer than usually but it was fun though."|
PITTSBURGH -- For the first time, Mother Nature has balked at the NHL's annual excursion onto her turf.
Faced with the threat of sustained rain through the morning and into the afternoon Saturday -- through the heart of the scheduled time of the Winter Classic game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals -- the NHL made the preemptive move to back up the start time to 8 p.m. ET.
There are no guarantees, of course, that the move announced late Friday afternoon by the league will pay off, but there's every possibility it could be a blessing in disguise.
The troubling storm front is expected to move through the area by early evening, bringing with it cooler, drier air that should help ice conditions.
A number of players said after practice Friday that the ice seemed a bit soft.
"Well, ice was not that good but we still have 24 hours," Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said after the two teams worked out at Heinz Field for the first time.
Both teams also got a chance to skate with their families after.
"You know, it was humid, more water, so the ice was a little maybe softer than usually but it was fun, though, a good time," Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury said.
The jovial netminder has faced the elements before, having to snare pucks through the snow that fell, sometimes heavily, during the first Winter Classic, in Buffalo in 2008.
Is he worried about any rain that might still be in the area?
"I don't know. It depends on how hard it rains, how big it is. If it's windy or not. So I guess they're sort of the factors that come into play. But there's not much else I can do. Basically just put my helmet on and go play," Fleury said.
It is interesting that players whose daily lives are so rooted in structure -- eat at this time, stretch at this time, get equipment on at this time -- seemed so nonplussed with the fluidity surrounding the Winter Classic's start time and the vagaries of the weather.
"We're just happy to be part of it and we want to play. If they can't maintain the ice with having a lot of rain and we can't play, there's nothing we can do," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said.
"Whether it's rain or snow, whatever it is -- individually, personally, I'll play in anything," he said.
Pittsburgh defenseman Alex Goligoski was looking forward to the possibility that this might become the first Winter Classic played in prime time.
"I think that'd be really cool to play at night under the lights. That'd definitely be really cool," he said.
Ovechkin said he was looking forward to a later start to the game because it more closely mirrored the traditional game day routine.
"For me, it's better if it's gong to be evening because it's like we have a game almost every time at 7 o'clock. So if it's going to be at 8 o'clock, it's going to be OK because you can sleep. You can eat normal food, like, you know, steaks, spaghetti, and just take a nap before the game," Ovechkin said.
"If it's going to be at 8, you can celebrate New Year's, too," he added.
Washington coach Bruce Boudreau echoed the sentiments of many from both teams: The time of the game doesn't matter; it's the game itself.
"I mean, as far as us, as players and coaches, I don't care if they play at midnight. Let's get it going."