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Pens G Conklin gets starting nod, making him 2-for-2 in NHL outdoor games

By ASSOCIATED PRESS | December 31, 2007 | 0 comments
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Ty Conklin is 2-for-2 when it comes to outdoor NHL games.

The Pittsburgh Penguins goalie got the starting nod for Tuesday's Winter Classic against the Buffalo Sabres, just as he did four years ago while with the Edmonton Oilers in the Heritage Classic.

Conklin allowed four goals on 27 shots in the Oilers' 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the NHL's only other outdoor game, back in 2003.

''For everybody, it'll be a pretty big deal,'' said Conklin, who signed with Pittsburgh this summer after spending some time last season as a backup with Buffalo. ''What gets lost is how much work goes into these things and what a production it is. I think everybody will look forward to it.''

Conklin came up from the minors last month after No. 1 goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was injured, and is riding a four-game winning streak. His previous start was Saturday night when he made 26 saves in a 2-0 home victory over the Sabres, his first shutout since Jan. 3, 2006.

''Not only because of the experience factor, but because he deserves to play,'' Penguins coach Michel Therrien gave Monday as his reasons to use Conklin over Dany Sabourin. ''He's been playing well for us since we called him up. He's got the hot hand right now and that's why he's going to play.

''It's not because he played in Edmonton, in that game three or four years ago.''

That means Sabourin will be on the bench instead of showing off the retro pads, blocker and helmet he got for this game.

Oddsmakers list the Penguins at +130 to win the game with the total set at 5 ½.

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BLACK AND BLUE: Don't be fooled. Those guys in the powder-blue jerseys really are the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And no, you haven't gone back in time. Those crisp white sweaters with the big Buffalo on the front are being worn by the current-day Sabres.

For one day, the Penguins' black and gold is gone, replaced by the old-time jerseys Pittsburgh's players of old once wore.

''It's nice. A lot of guys were commenting they'd like to wear that jersey more,'' Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. ''It's a pretty sharp jersey. It's fun for us to switch it up a bit, get some new clothing, things like that.''

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JUST LIKE BACK HOME: The Sabres and Penguins got their only chance to practice on the outdoor rink at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Monday, and said it brought back memories of the days they played hockey outside as kids.

Well, making with a few small differences.

''Yeah, besides there being 74,000 people there, the rest of it pretty similar,'' said Sabres forward Jason Pominville, a Montreal native. ''I've never played outside for a game that actually counts, so that will be interesting. We're excited about this, we're anxious - the whole city is.''

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MAKING IT UP: If rain or wind or snow knocks out the Winter Classic on Tuesday, get set for outdoor hockey under the lights Wednesday night.

The game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres is on track for Tuesday afternoon, with puck drop scheduled for shortly after 1 p.m. If necessary, the NHL's first outdoor game in the United States, would be pushed back to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Ralph Wilson Stadium and would be played under more frigid conditions.

The NHL is prepared to wait as long as possible Tuesday to get the game in, even if it means pausing the action to let the weather improve and to clean off the ice.

''If there's one or two snow squalls, there's the potential to have some temporary stoppage of play,'' deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. ''Those stoppages of play and their duration will come under the full discretion of the commissioner (Gary Bettman) after consultation with the officials on the ice, hockey operations officials and the National Hockey League Players' Association.''

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STICKING TO PLANS: Even if Tuesday proves to be a perfect weather day, there are no plans to scrap the split third period.

The NHL announced over the weekend that the Penguins and Sabres will stop at the 10-minute mark of the third and switch ends, ensuring that neither team would have an advantage should wind or sun be more of a factor on one side of the rink.

The same applies for overtime, which would be broken up in 2 1/2-minute segments.

In the event that everything is equal weather-wise, the switch is still expected to be made. The clubs decided during a conference call with the NHL on Friday night that that would be the fair way.

''Everybody's comfortable with the game format,'' NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

And if someone is on a breakaway when the clock strikes 10, play will still be stopped.

''There's going to be a buzzer at the 10-minute mark, which is consistent with the way international ice hockey was played ... so it's not without precedent switching ends in the third period, and you do that with a hard break in the action,'' Daly said.

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THE ICE MAN SKATETH: Dan Craig, the NHL's ice guru, took the first spin on his freshly built rink and was pleased with how he felt.

Craig, hockey's version of the NFL's George Toma, laced up his skates and took to the ice on Sunday - one day before the Penguins and Sabres practiced on it and two before the Winter Classic.

''It had a good feel, good base to it,'' Craig said. ''It was more, for me, just to get a feel for the atmosphere itself as much as the ice. There's a couple of zones that I wanted to feel that were fine - in front of the net - we had the rain and the wind, I wanted to make sure we were as solid as I thought that we should be. Everything is good right now.''

Right now being the operative phrase. Craig is relentless in his preparation and won't rest until at least the final buzzer on Tuesday - or Wednesday night should weather force a postponement.

''There's no relaxing. None. Zero,'' he said. ''The rain the other night helped us out, it gave us really good density on the bottom end. It doesn't look like there's rain, it looks like there's snow. It can snow, and we can just clean it off with the machines. No problem.''

The forecast called for snow overnight Monday that could drop anywhere from 1 to 6 inches.

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TICKETS AVAILABLE: Late Monday, after both teams practiced at Ralph Wilson Stadium, some more tickets were made available.

With a crowd of about 73,000 already expected, a limited number of tickets went on sale Monday.

Most were in obstructed view areas for a cost of $10, while a limited number of all-inclusive, food-and beverage tickets to the ''One Communications Club'' were available for $290.

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