Winter Classic bracing for blast from Mother Nature

By Steve Keating

BOSTON (Reuters) - Fenway Park has seen plenty of rain delays but it could be a first for the NHL when the Boston Bruins take on the Philadelphia Flyers in Friday's Winter Classic, the league's annual showcase game played outdoors.

With forecasters expecting a mixture of rain and snow on New Year's Day, NHL officials will be anxiously monitoring the weather leading up to the face-off at Boston's Major League Baseball stadium.

According to NHL rules a game can be declared official if two periods are completed but the aim is to play the contest to its conclusion.

If bad weather forces a postponement the NHL would try to play the game on Saturday but a major storm bearing down on the Boston area could create even more havoc.

"We'll have to take it as it goes but both teams will have to deal with the same conditions at the same time," Bruins netminder Tim Thomas told reporters.

"We are just going to have to adjust on the fly."

The weather is part of the charm that has helped transform the Winter Classic from a novelty event into the NHL's signature game.

The Bruins and Flyers have not yet produced the type of form many predicted but both enter the Classic riding the momentum from shutout wins on Wednesday.

Boston finished first in the Eastern Conference last season for the first time in seven years and have not won a Stanley Cup since 1972.

That record makes them the odd one out in Boston, home to the 2007 World Series-winning Red Sox baseball team, 2008 NBA championship-winning Celtics and the New England Patriots, one of America's greatest football dynasties.

"There are two points on the line tomorrow but for most of us this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara.

"You have to enjoy it but at the same time there is business to do and you have to be focused.

"I think it will be more like a playoff game. For sure it's going to be pretty intense."

(Editing by Julian Linden)