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Rain still predicted for Winter Classic @NHL

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh is warming up to the Winter Classic, and that could be a problem for the NHL.

Forecasters are predicting moderate temperatures and rain showers for the Capitals-Penguins outdoor game Saturday, conditions that could result in a delay.

The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST, and the NHL is prepared to push back the game as late as 8 p.m. The NHL also could postpone the game to Sunday - forecast calls for cloudy skies with a hint of sunshine and a high of 38 - but prefers not to because NBC's telecast would oppose NFL games on CBS and Fox.

"We're planning to play at 1 o'clock," NHL chief operating officer John Collins said Thursday. "We've got maximum flexibility to do what we need to do to get that game in on Saturday. If for some reason it was completely unplayable, we have other options. But we fully expect to get the game in on Saturday."

However, he said: "This could take a little while."

The forecast for Friday's team practices and the Capitals-Penguins alumni game featuring Mario Lemieux is cloudy with temperatures in the 50s.

Temperatures well above freezing should not affect the ice. NHL ice specialist Dan Craig said the ice is designed to withstand air temperatures of up to 65 without deteriorating.

Rain is a worry because it could increase the chance for injuries. The league isn't about to risk having Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin slip on a rain puddle and tear a knee ligament.

"If we have weather during the game, we'll make adjustments," Collins said.

Conditions were near perfect for the first three Winter Classics in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston, with seasonal temperatures and, in Buffalo, plenty of snow. Although rain on New Year's Day in Pittsburgh is uncommon, it has occurred; there have been multiple Steelers home playoff games played in well-above-aveage temperatures.

"Weather is part of the game's DNA. ... The elements have always been a part of the story of the game," Collins said. "It's part of what makes it great."

The NHL is not ready to announce possible contingency plans because there are no predictions of a drenching rain that would last for hours.

"Weather is the biggest factor, and weather can change," Collins said. "Hopefully, it's going to change. We're not talking about that kind of weather pattern. We're not talking about a blizzard, we're not talking about lightning, we're not talking about tremendously high winds. We're not talking about any of those type of things that would create that kind of a crisis. We'll do what we need to do."

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