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Classic facing a rain delay? Add to ...

The northeastern parts of Canada and the United States may still be feeling the lingering icy fingers of a sudden cold snap that hit early Tuesday morning but all the NHL's army of officials is worried about now is the expected arrival of balmy weather at Fenway Park on Friday.

The howling winds and -15C temperatures that greeted those trickling in to Boston on Tuesday eased to about -8C by Wednesday and the forecast is calling for a mild 4C and one or all of rain, freezing rain or snow by the time the puck drops for the NHL's annual outdoor game at 1 p.m. Eastern on Friday. That is a little better than the solid rain forecast earlier in the week.

When it comes to weather for the Winter Classic the NHL can handle just about anything except rain. League officials said recently they could even hold an outdoor game in San Jose because their portable ice rink can maintain its surface to a maximum outside temperature of 10C. That temperature is not uncommon in January in Northern California.

But if a hard, steady rain hits on Friday, New Year's Day, it will be a calamity for the NHL. If the rain persists, the plan is to postpone the game and play it on Saturday, although it will take a monsoon for that decision.

The safety of the players would be compromised by soft ice and poor visibility and so would the comfort of the 36,000 or so fans at Fenway Park. Then there is the problem of television.

NBC has a window of 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday for the game, so a rain delay, something that is familiar to denizens of The Fens during its customary operating season, could be accommodated.

If the unthinkable happens and the game has to be put off until Saturday, the NHL says all three TV networks carrying the game, NBC, CBC and RDS, will still do so.

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