Kovalev, acquired Thursday from Ottawa, scored a goal in regulation and had the only tally in the shootout to lead the Penguins to a 6-5 victory against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night.
Kovalev, who had some of his best seasons with the Penguins from 1998 through 2003, got the shootout winner in his second game with his new/old team by ripping a wrister past James Reimer.
"It brings back old memories," the 38-year-old said. "I know I can be the same player, and I feel like I have another opportunity to be that type of player and play in the playoffs. It's exciting."
The Leafs got one point to move within five of eighth-place Carolina, but saw a second one get away after they were unable to hold four leads. Reimer, who's been carrying the load in goal, had a tough night.
"I was feeling pretty tired toward the end of the game," said Reimer, who made 35 saves.
"We knew we weren't going to win the last 20," Lupul said. "There's going to be nights when we don't execute as well as we want, but we got out of here with one point. It's not the end of the world, that's for sure."
However, Reimer admitted that the point that got away Saturday will be stuck on his mind.
"I definitely think about the one lost," he said. "Shootouts are tough, especially for myself. I've always thought I've been a pretty good breakaway or shootout goalie in the minors and even when I was growing up.
"That's a tough loss to take."
With nine players out of the lineup, the Penguins hardly resemble the team that was challenging for the top of the conference earlier this season. Pittsburgh is 11-9-3 since losing captain Sidney Crosby to a concussion in January.
The Penguins' young lineup showed no signs of fatigue while playing for the second straight night.
"They play a net-crash game," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "We just weren't quite able to cope with that for whatever reason. (We were) sloppy, they had too much time.
"We turned too many pucks over and mishandled some things in our end."
Lupul opened the scoring with his first goal for the Maple Leafs at 16:43 of the first period and Kovalev tied it with 46.8 seconds remaining. It was his first goal with the Penguins since Feb. 8, 2003.
Shortly after Lupul had an apparent goal wiped out because the puck was directed in off his skate, Armstrong made it 2-1 by scoring his eighth of the season after nice work from linemate Mike Brown behind the net. But two quick goals gave Pittsburgh the lead heading into the third period. Letestu used a nice screen from Jordan Staal to beat Reimer at 16:00 before Jeffrey broke free from defenseman Keith Aulie and scored at 19:44.
The Leafs were 2-24-2 when trailing after 40 minutes, but Mikhail Grabovski found MacArthur open in front at 2:52 and Lupul scored off a rush 35 seconds later with a shot that trickled through Marc-Andre Fleury's legs.
Phaneuf turned over the puck to allow Talbot to tie it with a shorthanded breakaway at 6:34, but redeemed himself by one-timing a shot past Fleury less than a minute later to put Toronto back ahead 5-4. Rupp's wrister from the slot after Toronto was caught running around in its zone tied the game again at 9:08.
"The way we grabbed the lead in the third period, that's the part that stings," Wilson said. "We couldn't ever buckle down defensively in the third period and slam the door shut."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report
|PPG - Joffrey Lupul (6) ASST: Dion Phaneuf (15), Phil Kessel (20)|
1 - 0 TOR
|Alex Kovalev (15) ASST: Ben Lovejoy (7)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Colby Armstrong (8) ASST: Mike Brown (4)|
2 - 1 TOR
|PPG - Mark Letestu (11) ASST: Kris Letang (38), Jordan Staal (10)|
2 - 2 Tie
|Dustin Jeffrey (5) ASST: Pascal Dupuis (16), Matt Cooke (16)|
3 - 2 PIT
|Clarke MacArthur (19) ASST: Mikhail Grabovski (21), Nikolay Kulemin (22)|
3 - 3 Tie
|Joffrey Lupul (7) ASST: Carl Gunnarsson (7)|
4 - 3 TOR
|SHG - Maxime Talbot (7) ASST: NONE|
4 - 4 Tie
|PPG - Dion Phaneuf (3) ASST: Tim Brent (7), Phil Kessel (21)|
5 - 4 TOR
|Mike Rupp (6) ASST: Mark Letestu (11)|
5 - 5 Tie
|1||J. Lupul||K. Letang|
|2||P. Kessel||A. Kovalev|
|Alex Kovalev Hi-sticking against Clarke MacArthur|
|Jay Rosehill Hi-sticking against Ben Lovejoy|
|James Neal Hooking against Clarke MacArthur|
|Jay Rosehill Fighting (maj) against Mike Rupp|
|Mike Rupp Fighting (maj) against Jay Rosehill|
|Pascal Dupuis Hooking against Fredrik Sjostrom|
|Joe Vitale Hooking against Phil Kessel|
|Tyler Bozak Slashing against James Neal|
|Mark Letestu Too many men/ice - bench|
|Alex Kovalev Roughing against Colby Armstrong|
|Colby Armstrong Roughing against Alex Kovalev|
|Zbynek Michalek Slashing against Nikolay Kulemin|