PITTSBURGH (AP) — Jordan Leopold scored his first goal for Pittsburgh at 3:50 of overtime after Atlanta failed three times to hold leads, and the Penguins bounced back from one of their worst losses all season to beat the Thrashers 4-3 Saturday.
Evgeni Malkin had a goal and an assist after sitting out five consecutive games and seven of eight with a bruised right foot, and Sidney Crosby had three assists as the Penguins followed up a dismally played 2-0 loss to Tampa on Wednesday.
The Penguins held a meeting after the defeat and coach Dan Bylsma called an unscheduled 8:30 a.m. practice the next day following Pittsburgh's fourth loss in six games, but the Penguins appeared to respond more to the return of Malkin and Sergei Gonchar than they did to any punitive measures.
Gonchar, out for four games with strep throat, tied it on a power play with 74 seconds remaining in regulation and had an assist. Leopold won it with his eighth of the season overall and first since Jan. 31 with Florida, cutting down the right-wing boards before spinning to avoid defenseman Mark Popovic and throwing a bad-angle shot past goalie Johan Hedberg.
The Thrashers, desperately trying to stay in the race for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot, took leads on goals by Maxim Afinogenov, Tim Stapleton and Rich Peverley, but the Penguins answered each time. Tyler Kennedy also scored.
Atlanta is a point out of eighth place in the conference with three games remaining: against conference-leading Washington, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. They have lost their last eight against the Penguins.
Pittsburgh, at least temporarily, moved past Buffalo and into second place in the Eastern Conference with 97 points, one more than the Sabres. The Sabres play in Montreal on Saturday night. Pittsburgh opened a two-point lead in the Atlantic Division over New Jersey, which played at Carolina on Saturday night after losing to Chicago 2-1 in a shootout on Friday.
Atlanta hadn't allowed a power-play goal in nine games until Malkin and Gonchar scored as Pittsburgh went 2 for 5 with the man advantage.
Maybe the Thrashers shouldn't have gotten Malkin upset.
Malkin was visibly angry after getting his No. 71 jersey yanked over his head during a scrap involving multiple players along the boards near the midpoint of the second period, and he yelled over his shoulder toward at least one player as he went to the bench.
Less than two minutes later, Malkin tied it at 1 on a power play. Crosby made a cross-ice pass to Alex Goligoski, who looked as if he might shoot from the left point only to slide the puck to Malkin at the edge of the crease for his 25th goal.
Stapleton, a rookie, scored in his second successive game late in the period to make it 2-1, only to have Kennedy tie it again at 3:27 off a rebound of Gonchar's shot. Gonchar scored himself on a one-timer from the high slot after Jim Slater was called for holding at 17:33.
NOTES: Leopold was traded by Florida on March 1. He hadn't scored in 15 games with Pittsburgh. ... Crosby won the Penguins' MVP award, and F Jordan Staal won the players' player award for his season-long consistency. ... Atlanta rookie Niclas Bergfors has four goals and four assists in five games against Pittsburgh. He assisted on Afinogenov's goal at 19:12 of the first. ... Malkin has six goals and 12 assists in eight games against Atlanta. ... Atlanta played without former Penguins F Colby Armstrong, who sat out the first game of a two-game suspension.