Greg Otto,

WASHINGTON – If there were people who thought last week’s Capitals game against the Penguins was just another game, Wednesday night’s episode of “24/7” proved otherwise.

Serving as the prologue for Saturday’s outdoor matchup in Pittsburgh, HBO peeled back another layer of life in the NHL, showing how the Caps’ pre-Winter Classic game turned into a chess match with their nemesis to the north.

Both contrasts and similarities in playing styles are examined over the course of the game.

The contrast in apparent in the two teams’ coaches, with Bruce Boudreau giving a lively pre-game speech (complete with his trademark F-bombs), while Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is calm and calculated, running through strategy like its successful outcome is a certainty.

The similarities come out as HBO puts viewers in the thick of the action. Both Crosby and Ovechkin lash out at referees when calls don’t go their way, Mike Green gets called about 10 different names (all of them unprintable) by Penguins defenders and fans rant and rave like lunatics as NHL suits in Toronto can’t dispel whether or not Green scored the game-winning goal in overtime.

After the Penguins leave town with an OT win, the intensity of the game subsides and players from both teams are shown enjoying the holiday with their families and friends.

With the way these two teams play when pitted against one another, Saturday’s game will make HBO’s segments of players filled with Christmas cheer a distant afterthought.

Highlight: Eric Fehr and his bombshell wife distributing Christmas presents to D.C. youth. It’s refreshing to see any athlete genuinely care about making locals happy outside of their physical talents.

Lowlight: Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman Ben Lovejoy’s swollen face after being hit with a slapshot. Yeeeouch. Would you take millions of dollars to take a 100 mph rubber biscuit to the face? Okay, well, yeah, you still probably would, but seeing Lovejoy’s face makes you at least think about it.

(Copyright 2010 by WTOP. All rights reserved.)