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Thrashers lose lead, fall to Penguins in OT

by Brian Hunter
Jordan Leopold's first goal for the Pittsburgh Penguins became the latest tough pill to swallow for the Atlanta Thrashers.

The trade-deadline acquisition from Florida controlled the puck along the right-wing boards, spun and whipped a shot that somehow got behind Johan Hedberg with 2:10 left in overtime as the Penguins rallied Saturday afternoon for a 4-3 win over the Thrashers at Mellon Arena. Sidney Crosby was credited with the only assist, his third of the game.

"I was tired at the end of the shift and actually wanted to get off, and I threw it on the net and I think I surprised them," said Leopold, who scored seven goals for the Panthers.

Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar both scored in their return to the Pittsburgh lineup. The duo teamed up for Gonchar's game-tying power-play goal with 1:14 left in regulation as the Penguins moved two points ahead of the Devils in the Atlantic Division, with New Jersey in Carolina later Saturday.

Maxim Afinogenov, Tim Stapleton and Rich Peverley scored for Atlanta, which has lost two straight and four of seven. The Thrashers were looking to tie Philadelphia and Boston for the final two Eastern Conference playoff spots. Instead, they remained one point behind those teams and now have only three games left in the regular season.

"We had two points and we found a way to squander that," Atlanta defenseman Ron Hainsey said.

Gonchar, who missed the past four games due to illness, took a feed from Malkin and blasted the puck past Hedberg for his 11th goal of the season. It came on a 6-on-4 advantage for the Penguins, after Jim Slater was called for holding with 2:27 left and Marc-Andre Fleury headed to the bench for an extra attacker.

"It was really important for me to get back," Gonchar said. "We're going to have the playoffs in a short period of time, so I need some time to get things back into shape and make sure I'm ready when playoffs start. Finally I was doing good enough to come back and start playing."

Afinogenov, a free-agent signing by the Thrashers during the offseason, opened the scoring with 48 seconds left in the first period, completing a give-and-go with Niclas Bergfors. It was his career-high 24th goal after he scored only 16 over the previous two seasons for the Sabres.

The teams traded power-play goals in the second. Malkin, who had missed seven of the last eight games with a foot injury, struck with 7:55 remaining for his 25th of the season, finishing off a tic-tac-toe passing play with Alex Goligoski and Crosby.

"It's great to have them back," Crosby said. "Obviously for them to miss some time like they did and come back and play the way they did, and make an impact right away, that's huge for us."

Atlanta regained the lead with 2:37 left in the period as Stapleton scored his second in as many games following a recall from the AHL, tipping in a Johnny Oduya shot.

Tyler Kennedy brought the Mellon Arena crowd to life by banging in the rebound of a Gonchar shot at 3:27 of the third, but the jubilation was short-lived as Peverley capitalized off a rebound just 64 seconds later. Clarke MacArthur and Evander Kane -- playing his first game since a broken foot suffered March 6 in Tampa Bay sidelined him -- drew the assists as the Thrashers took a 3-2 lead.

"I thought we deserved better at times in the game and it didn't go our way, or we had to deal with them getting up again and again," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "I liked the way our team kept responding and kept playing our game. Win or lose, I was going to feel that way about that game."

Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.

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