Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin returned to the Pittsburgh lineup just in time for the Penguins, helping the team to a hard-fought 4-3 home overtime win over the gutsy Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday afternoon.
Malkin set up Gonchar for a power-play blast with just 74 seconds left in the third to tie the game, a goal that came with Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the bench for an extra attacker.
Jordan Leopold's bad angle shot from the half-wall victimized Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg in overtime, squirting through the pads.
Gonchar had missed four games due to illness while Malkin didn't play in the last five due to a foot injury.
Hedberg's game was spoiled after a strong effort — particularly in a second period sequence — in which he made 31 saves.
Malkin and Tyler Kennedy had scored earlier for Pittsburgh, both goals resulting from plays started by Sidney Crosby. The Penguins captain had three assists — he set up the Leopold winner — to give him 97 points on the season, third in the league.
Maxim Afinogenov, Tim Stapleton and Rich Peverley scored for Atlanta, with six different Thrashers earning assists in the game.
Atlanta remain in ninth in the Eastern Conference logjam, but are playing spirited hockey of late. While several other teams in the East flounder, Atlanta has rallied into contention with a 6-3-3 span in the last dozen games. They were coming off a tough 2-1 loss to the top team in the league, Washington.
Unfortunately for the Thrashers, they only have three games left, putting them at a disadvantage with respect to the other teams battling for a spot. Atlanta plays Pittsburgh again, as well as Washington and New Jersey.
If they don't make it, their overtime record will be a big reason. The Thrashers fell to 6-13 in games that go beyond 60 minutes, with Pittsburgh's ledger in that regard now 13-7.
In addition to Malkin and Gonchar, Atlanta forward Evander Kane also returned from a multi-game absence.
Kane incurred an early double minor for a high stick on Gonchar, but Pittsburgh negated much of the advantage with their own minor penalty.
Atlanta's Jim Slater tested Fleury with a slapper and later in the period dropped the gloves with Bill Guerin.
Not long after the fight, Afinogenov outskated Kris Letang and completed a give-and-go with Niclas Bergfors.
Afinogenov made a bid for a second goal early in the middle period with a power-play blast, but it was muzzled by Fleury.
The Penguins buzzed around Hedberg midway through the second. Alex Goligoski was set up for a great chance by Crosby, with Alexei Ponikarovsky stifled by the Atlanta goalie.
Hedberg then made a heady play by coming out to poke-check Malkin, who was all alone in the slot.
Pittsburgh eventually knotted the game by expertly working around the perimeter on a power play. Diagonal passes by Crosby and Goligoski set up Malkin with a half-empty net for his 25th.
Johnny Oduya swooped in to test Fleury with just over four minutes left in the second. The defenceman then helped put the Thrashers ahead, blasting a shot on the power play that Stapleton tipped between Fleury's pads at 17:23 of the second.
The Penguins would draw even again, with Hedberg deflecting Gonchar's point shot right to Kennedy. Crosby again started the sequence for Pittsburgh.
But just 64 seconds later, Kane's release from the slot was too quick for Fleury, leading to a big rebound that Peverley converted for his career-high 24th of the season.
Kane had missed 15 games with a broken foot.
Atlanta played without Pavel Kubina (injury) and Colby Armstrong, who was serving the first of a two-game suspension for a hit to the head on Washington's Mathieu Perreault.
Thrashers forward Bryan Little and Pittsburgh forward Chris Kunitz each left the game with injuries.