WASHINGTON -- If this fast-paced, riveting game served as something of an Olympic preview, NBC has to be tickled blue, yellow, black, green and red.
Then again, Olympic hockey doesn't regularly feature the sort of smacking, shoving, bashing and butt-ending that punctuated the Penguins' fall-from-ahead, 5-4 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals Sunday at the Verizon Center.
"A lot of stuff today. A lot of sticks. A lot of little plays. It was going both ways, but it was a feisty game," said Penguins center Jordan Staal, who had two goals.
Staal didn't quite make the cut for Team Canada for the Vancouver Winter Games later this month -- at 21, he's a prime candidate for future Olympics if the NHL decides to keep participating -- but 2010 Olympians had their imprints all over this game, which was nationally televised to NBC, the rights-holder for the Olympics in the United States.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby also had two goals, but Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin had three to lead his team to its club-record 14th consecutive victory. Those two will anchor the favored Canadian and Russian teams, respectively, in Vancouver.
Although the winning goal was poked in on a power play by non-Olympian Mike Knuble of the Capitals at 2:29 of overtime, it was the culmination of a series of events covered in Olympians' handprints.
Washington, which surged back from a 4-1 deficit, went to work on its top-ranked power play in overtime after Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, an American Olympian, received a high-sticking penalty for an incident with Capitals winger Alexander Semin, a Russian Olympian, in the left circle in the Penguins end. Orpik then took a game misconduct penalty after the winning goal for airing his thoughts a little too vehemently.
Ovechkin launched a shot from the left point that ricocheted off the inside of the far goal post. Fans erupted, thinking Ovechin had scored, but the puck bounced off of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (a Canadian Olympian) and Knuble nudged it in.
To say Orpik disagreed with the high-sticking call would be like saying the Penguins have developed a tad of a dislike for the Capitals.
"He sells it all the time," Orpik said, accusing Semin of using theatrics to draw the penalty. "The kid's a baby. He does it all game long. I've got zero respect for the kid.
"If it was a penalty, it was a penalty. I don't know. But the kid does that all game long. It's tough to lose on that [series of events]."
At about the same time not far away at the Verizon Center, Washington coach Bruce Boudreau dismissed any possible hard feelings over the call that might come from Orpik.
"Tit for tat then," Boudreau said, pointing out that the Penguins had six power plays to his team's four. "I hope he's not whining about it."
The Penguins' loudest bellyaching was self-directed.
Building a three-goal lead on the two goals by Crosby and the two by Staal sandwiched around Ovechkin's first gave the Penguins a 4-1 lead before Washington began its comeback with Eric Fehr's goal at 17:12 of the second period.
Ovechkin added his league-leading 41st and 42nd goals in the third period to tie it.
"They've got a great offense, and we allowed them to use it," said Crosby, who has matched his career high with 39 goals. "We got that lead and we didn't have that instinct to keep going and finish them off. We let them hang around, and they're going to get their chances."
Especially when the Capitals, who are leading the NHL standings, are steamrollering everything in their path.
"With the amount of games they've won, they have a little swagger to them," Staal said. "We wanted to come into this building and try to take that away. Obviously, we didn't play enough of a full 60 [-minute game] enough to do it."
This was the Penguins' first visit to Verizon Center since they eliminated the Capitals from the second round of the playoffs last spring with a 6-2 win in Game 7.
The Capitals lead the season series, 2-0. Any matchups and alliances that bleed over into the Olympics will have to suffice for a while. The next Penguins-Washington installment is not set until March 24.
"I think everyone expects an emotional and intense game when you see these teams play each other," said Crosby, who got butt-ended by Washington's Brooks Laich on a faceoff in the second period and had his helmet knocked off a short time later during a Penguins power play.
"Whether it's NBC or not, that's just the way it goes when these two teams meet," he said. "It was a pretty intense game. It felt like a playoff atmosphere to me. It's intense every time we play them. These two teams have quite the rivalry now."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721 First Published February 8, 2010 5:00 AM