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Winter Classic gets shifted to prime time

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 -- and in prime time.

Today's Winter Classic outdoor game pairing Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and Ovechkin's Washington Capitals was switched Friday from an afternoon start to 8 p.m. (Ch. 2) to avoid predicted rain.

The league wanted to avoid starting the game at the scheduled 1 p.m., only to have to repeatedly stop it before the weather front passes in late afternoon and the temperatures drops.

"We're talking low 40s, more of a winter setting [at night]," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "So we're looking forward to a fine time."

Players from both teams welcomed the switch.

"We practiced outdoors a couple of days ago and the glare of the sun is terrible," Capitals forward David Steckel said. "Under the lights, it will be that much better."

Ovechkin was happy for a different reason: no early morning wake-up call on New Year's morning.

"You can sleep, you can eat normal food, steaks and spaghetti, and take a nap," he said. "You can celebrate New Year's, too."

Crosby also likes the idea of a nighttime game, which could boost NBC's ratings.

"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 night, even if there are unexpected delays, 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.

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