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Weather doesn't take away from classic atmosphere

by Shawn P. Roarke
PITTSBURGH -- While the weather conditions surrounding the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic were a major talking point in the wake of Washington's  3-1 win against Pittsburgh at sold-out Heinz Field, those involved in the game were having very little to do with the chatter.

Play was certainly impacted briefly when heavy rains began falling at the start of the third period and continued throughout the first 10 minutes of game time in the third, players from both sides refused to take away from the night's highlights.

"The conditions were all right," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think when it started to come down pretty good there, you could see the puck started to bounce even a little bit more. Even if it didn't rain, it might have continued to do that just because it's the third period and it's been played on a bit more. But it's easy saying, looking back, when you're down, you would have liked a delay or something like that.

"But everyone's trying to get the game in, and obviously, for the first two periods there wasn't much issue there. There was light rain there at one point, but other than that, it was pretty consistent. We knew that was something we were going to have to deal with. I don't think that's a complaint."

Both teams dealt with the ever-changing conditions -- unseasonably warm temperatures, strong winds and driving rain were all in play at different junctures of the evening -- in admirable fashion.

There were four goals in the game -- two on breakaways -- and 65 shots mustered by the two teams. Evgeni Malkin's game-opening goal was a thing of beauty as he steamed down the right-side boards and snapped a shot five-hole. Eric Fehr's second goal of the night -- the final goal of the game -- was a breakaway engineered by a pair of crisp pinpoint passes, capped by Fehr picking the top corner past Marc-Andre Fleury's catching glove.

"The players, you saw how they were playing," said Commissioner Gary Bettman. "There were 60-some-odd shots on goal. The players were into it. I think playing in front of so many people had something to do with that."

The 68,111 fans who packed Heinz Field certainly were not deterred by the conditions, roaring throughout the game and delivering an ambience that far outweighed any passing issues with the weather.

"I think both teams were just really excited and it was a pretty fun," Washington captain Alex Ovechkin said. "The first period was good weather. The second period was a little bit of rain and the third period was lots of rain. The weather changed all the time and we handled it. It was a pretty good game."

Heading into this Winter Classic, the NHL understood weather could be a factor during the game. In the 2008 Classic in Buffalo, snow fell throughout the contest. The next year, extreme cold left the ice in peril less than 48 hours before the start of the game. Last year, at Fenway Park, a blizzard dumped several inches of snow in Boston the day after the game.

"This is the reality of hockey when you take it outdoors," Bettman said. "It becomes a little unpredictable."
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