DENVER -- The regular season is winding down and points are at a premium for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who still have their eyes on a couple of big prized: first place in the Atlantic Division and the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
After losing four of their previous five games -- and allowing 14 goals in back-to-back losses -- the Penguins got back on track Wednesday night with a 3-2 overtime win over the Colorado Avalanche before a near-sellout crowd of 17,357 at the Pepsi Center that included plenty of vocal Pittsburgh fans.
Tyler Kennedy's power-play goal with 49.2 seconds remaining in OT capped an entertaining game between two injury-riddled teams and enabled the Penguins to stay within five points of the division- and conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers.
"It was an exciting game to play and to watch," said Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who made 29 saves, including one against Brandon Yip on a shorthanded breakaway five minutes into the third period. "We had some good chances and (Avalanche goalie Peter) Budaj made some good saves.
"We didn't give up too much. We played hard for 60 minutes and I think it showed. Both teams came out and had a good game."
Kennedy converted a rebound during a 4-on-3 power play after Colorado's Kevin Porter tripped Zbynek Michalek with 1:26 to play while chasing him behind the Penguins net. Budaj, who had 33 saves, made a stop on Alex Goligoski and the puck squirted to Kennedy on the left side.
The Penguins, whose list of injuries includes superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, were relieved to come out on top after getting blown out 9-3 by the Islanders on Friday and blowing a 2-0 lead in a 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Sunday.
"It's a big win," Kennedy said. "For sure, coming down the last (23) games here, every game's a big game and we want to start heating up before playoffs. We just have to keep moving forward."
For the Avalanche, progress came in the form of a competitive effort following Monday's 9-1 debacle against Calgary.
"We played a lot better," said Paul Stastny, who had an assist and won 15 of 22 faceoffs. "We gave ourselves a chance to win, and that's what we want to do every night."
Still, the Avs have lost nine games in a row, though they did manage to gain a point for the first time since a 4-3 victory against St. Louis on Jan. 24.
"The effort was better, but we're not happy with the results," coach Joe Sacco said. "I think if we play like that, more often than not we'll certainly collect our share of wins down the stretch. For both sides missing key players, I thought the game had good energy. There were chances on both sides and good goaltending on both sides."
Sacco wasn't at all pleased with Porter's penalty, coming as it did 200 feet away from the Avalanche net.
"It's tough to take those kinds of penalties," he said. "He had his stick on the ice and unfortunately it got caught in the guy's skates."
The Avalanche are the NHL's worst penalty-killing team at home but thwarted four Pittsburgh power plays in regulation and had a chance to take the lead on Yip's shorthanded breakaway. Yip skated down the middle, faked a shot and went to his backhand, but Fleury stood his ground and made what turned out to be a pivotal save.
"I knew I needed that save to keep the game even and give us a chance," Fleury said. "I thought for a second he was going to shoot right away, but he pulled it to his backhand. He was going pretty fast and I just tried to follow him, let him make a move."
Staal scored 32 seconds after Gaunce did. He moved down right wing on a 2-on-1 rush after taking a pass from Nick Johnson, who earlier in the period was pummeled by Avalanche defenseman Ryan Wilson in a fight.
"We're obviously not in the best shape (injury-wise) right now, and we wanted the two big points," said Staal, who has 3 goals and an assist in a four-game point-scoring streak. "I know they're having trouble as well. We knew it was going to be a tough battle."
Stewart, with his second goal in 13 games since returning from a broken hand, converted David Jones' pass from the left corner at 3:24 of the second period after Fleury made a big stop against Paul Stastny. Stewart moved to the right side of the net for a tap inside the near post.
Gaunce, playing in his third NHL game, scored through a screen from the right point at 14:19 with Stewart and a couple of Penguins defenders standing in front of the crease.
"At the time it was great, everything I've ever dreamed of," Gaunce said of his first NHL goal. "It was really good, but I think a bit overshadowed after losing that game."
The Avalanche went on back-to-back power plays late in the period, including a 38-second two-man advantage, but couldn't produce the tie-breaking goal. Colorado is in a 1-for-25 power-play drought during the nine-game skid.
Penguins rookie Joe Vitale, playing in his fourth NHL game, scored his first career goal at 17:27 of the opening period. Vitale was a couple of strides ahead of Avalanche rookie Mark Olver, who replaced injured Matt Duchene in the lineup, when he took a pass from Brett Sterling, skated down the slot and beat Budaj to the stick side.
|Joe Vitale (1) ASST: Brett Sterling (2), Paul Martin (18)|
1 - 0 PIT
|Chris Stewart (13) ASST: David Jones (13), John-Michael Liles (30)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Cameron Gaunce (1) ASST: Matt Hunwick (8), Paul Stastny (28)|
2 - 1 COL
|Jordan Staal (6) ASST: Nick Johnson (2), Kris Letang (37)|
2 - 2 Tie
|PPG - Tyler Kennedy (12) ASST: Jordan Staal (7), Alex Goligoski (22)|
3 - 2 PIT
|Paul Stastny Hi-sticking against Brett Sterling|
|Ryan Wilson Fighting (maj) against Nick Johnson|
|Nick Johnson Fighting (maj) against Ryan Wilson|
|Ryan O'Byrne Holding against Alex Goligoski|
|Joe Vitale Hooking against Milan Hejduk|
|Craig Adams Tripping against Kevin Porter|
|Ryan O'Byrne Cross checking against Jordan Staal|
|Cody McLeod Holding against Ryan Craig|
|Kevin Porter Tripping against Zbynek Michalek|