"I am pretty excited and I am really excited for hockey that the game was put on [national] TV today," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "This is what people pay to see. The superstars shined and there is tension and excitement and physical play. You could see the passion on both sides. This is what hockey is all about."
Crosby and Staal pushed the road-weary defending Stanley Cup champions to a 4-1 lead in the middle period, but after a critical goal by Washington's Eric Fehr late in the second Ovechkin brought his team all the way back with a performance fitting the "M-V-P!" chants from the approximately 15,000 fans who braved more than two feet of snow to watch arguably the best game of the season.
Washington's winning streak is now at 14 games – tied for third-longest in NHL history. The Capitals go for No. 15 in Montreal on Wednesday and they could tie the NHL record – set by Pittsburgh 16 seasons ago – by winning their final three games before the Olympic break.
It was also the team's second win in as many tries this season against the club that knocked them out of the playoffs last season after an epic seven-game series.
"We wanted to keep this streak going and I think Pittsburgh is probably the team that wanted to end it the most," Capitals defenseman Mike Green said.
Ovechkin cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 4-3 at the 6:51 mark of the third period. He blocked Tom Poti's shot from the right point and backhanded the loose puck past Marc-Andre Fleury.
The two-time MVP knotted the score a little more than four minutes later. Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff against Crosby to the right of Fleury and Knuble was able to nudge it back to Ovechkin for a blast from the edge of the circle that brought hats cascading from the seats.
It was Ovechkin's 42nd goal of the season and his ninth career hat trick. And he wasn't done.
The Capitals had a power play during the overtime after Brooks Orpik was called for high-sticking Alexander Semin. Ovechkin's shot hit the left post and came back to Fleury, but Knuble was there to poke it across the goal line and set off a delirious celebration.
"I didn't even know the puck had gone in," Knuble said. "I thought they were blowing the horn from when Alex's hit the inside of the post. … It was a fun game that had a little bit of everything."
Orpik felt Semin embellished the play and was tagged with a game misconduct 23 seconds after going to the penalty box.
"He's a baby," Orpik said. "I don't know [if it was a high stick], but he does that all game long. I got zero respect for the kid. Yeah, it is tough to lose on that."
Crosby gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 6:59 into the opening period. Washington defenseman Tyler Sloan tried to bank a clearing attempt off the right wall but Crosby intercepted and then deked past Sloan in front of the net for a backhanded shot and his 38th goal of the season.
He made it a two-goal advantage three minutes later. Evgeni Malkin connected with Crosby on a perfect no-look pass through the middle of the Washington defense. Crosby waited out Capitals goalie Jose Theodore and notched his 15th goal in his past 15 games.
Ovechkin tallied Washington's first goal at 9:01 of the second period. He got behind the two Pittsburgh defensemen and Jeff Schultz hit him with a breakout pass to spring a breakaway. It was Ovechkin's 40th of the season and nudged him back in front of Crosby for the NHL lead.
Staal netted the next two goals. His first came from the top of the crease on a pass from Tyler Kennedy at 11:43 of the period. The second came after Malkin knocked down a clearing attempt by Poti and fed Staal with a precise 2-on-1 dish at 13:07.
There was a big scrum behind the Capitals' net after Staal's first goal. Ovechkin and Kris Letang were assessed roughing minors, while Backstrom and Kennedy earned 10-minute misconducts.
"It is always intense and people expect and emotional and intense game when these two teams play each other," Crosby said. "I think that is just the result."
Fehr cut Pittsburgh's lead to 4-2 late in the second. Fehr backhanded a shot to the net, went around defenseman Jay McKee and put home the rebound at 17:12.
Pittsburgh played less than 24 hours earlier, losing Saturday afternoon 5-3 in Montreal. The team travelled by plane to Newark, N.J., and then by bus to Washington because more than two feet of snow fell on the city between Friday and Saturday.
The Penguins reached their hotel at 2:15 a.m. – less than 10 hours before puck drop. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau stayed in a hotel Saturday night because his home in suburban Maryland was without power.
"We had a travel day," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Most of these guys have done that quite a bit in their career in the American [Hockey] League or growing up. I don't think it was at all out of the ordinary for any of these guys. It wasn't what we expected when they put the schedule together, but it happened and it wasn't out of the ordinary."