Kris Letang nets the game-winner in a shootout victory.
The Pittsburgh Penguins went into Sunday's game against the Thrashers with the open chance to secure first place in the Atlantic Division and make a tying run for first in the Eastern Conference. Following two straight losses to the Bruins on Thursday and the Senators on Saturday, the match against the Thrash posed as a must-win situation for the injured and ailing Pens club.
The flightless birds fired out of the gate quick, netting two goals in under three minutes to jump out to an early 2-0 lead. Ryan Malone started the scoring off fifty seconds into the first on a loose puck under Thrashers netminder Kari Lehtonen. Despite what seemed like Lehtonen's attempt to freeze the puck, the referees failed to blow the play dead. Ryan Malone acted on the play, maneuvered the puck out and backhanded the opening goal past a stunned Atlanta defense.
Less than two minutes later, Maxine "Just Call Me Max" Talbot flew down the length of the ice and side-stepped past the D to backhand a shot over Lehtonen's blocker-side.
In his first start since December, the rehabilitated Marc-Andre Fleury showed a solid presence in net. The first goal given up in the first was quite possibly one of the most perfectly placed shots all game. In attempts to cut down an angle, MAF was beat on a shot that pinged in off the right post to bring the Pens' lead to one.
From there the Pens and Thrash continued to trade shots and chances, as both teams failed to capitalize on any power play attempts. Before the game's end, the Penguins would watch their power play end at a scoreless 0-for-3.
Atlanta on the other hand was similarly challenged with the man advantage but were able to convert one minute into the third to tie it up at two.
Overtime came and went with plenty of chances but little to show for it. The highly dreaded shootout was on the way, and all in the crowd took a collective breath reminiscing on both the past shootout loss to the hands of Mark Recchi and the recent trade of shootout extraordinaire Erik Christensen.
Fleury was up for the challenge, holding the Thrash scoreless on all three attempts. Thanks to Kris Letang's leg-kick backhand shot, the Pens earned two points, secured first place in the Atlantic and moved into a tie with Montreal for the Conference lead.
Pittsburgh heads into Tampa on Tuesday to take on the recently refined Lightning team. Puck drops at 7:30 PM.