Atlanta's Mark Popovic, left, and the Penguins' Jeff Taffe vie for the puck.
Gregory Smith/Associated Press
Former Penguins forward Mark Recchi, left, battles Darryl Sydor for the puck last night in Atlanta.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ATLANTA -- This was not, Mark Recchi decided, the time to experiment with any new moves he might have been working on lately.
Not with a potential victory on his stick as he moved in on Penguins goalie Ty Conklin during the fourth round of a shootout at Philips Arena last night.
So Recchi stuck with one he has turned to a few times -- OK, a few thousand times -- over the years, and flipped a backhander behind Conklin for the goal that gave Atlanta a 3-2 victory.
"That's kind of my bread-and-butter," Recchi said. "I thought I could try to fake him out and get him up top."
It worked, and, when Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins' fourth shooter, the game was over. As was the Penguins' eight-game winning streak, their longest since they won 10 in a row Jan. 28-Feb. 19, 1999.
It was the first defeat for the Penguins (25-16-3) since a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders Dec. 21 and dropped them two points behind first-place New Jersey in the Atlantic Division.
That it was a former teammate -- Recchi went to the Thrashers on re-entry waivers last month -- whose shootout goal decided the outcome compounded the sting of losing for at least some Penguins.
"It's nice to see him do well," Jordan Staal said. "But, obviously, it puts a little salt in the wound."
Sidney Crosby scored both of the Penguins' goals to run his point total for the season to 61, moving him into third place in the NHL scoring race.
Although the game was decided by a shootout, the Penguins actually lost it on special-teams play in regulation. They failed to convert on three power plays, even though Atlanta's penalty-killing is among the league's worst, while the Thrashers were 2 for 3 with the extra man.
"When you finish minus-2 with your special teams, it's tough to win games," coach Michel Therrien said.
Crosby gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead when he backhanded a Malkin rebound past Lehtonen at 5:23 of the first, but Atlanta got that back when Ilya Kovalchuk hammered a slap shot by Conklin from above the left circle during a power play at 9:31.
The goal was Kovalchuk's league-leading 37th and came off a cross-ice feed from Recchi,
"He shoots the puck harder than I've ever seen anybody -- or right there with [Al] MacInnis and maybe a couple of other guys -- but it's how quick he gets it off that's the scary part," Recchi said.
The Penguins contended the goal should not have counted because, during the sequence of events that led to it, a Sergei Gonchar clearing attempt struck the protective netting above the glass, which should have resulted in play being stopped.
"[Gonchar] ripped it pretty hard," defenseman Rob Scuderi said.
"It went off the glass and right into the corner of the mesh. There's no doubt it hit the mesh. But I also don't blame [the officials] for missing it because, if you look at the nets from the bench, you can't see a thing because they're so dark."
Crosby put the Penguins back in front with his 20th of the season at 5:06 of the second.
He carried the puck around the Atlanta net before dropping it off for defenseman Kris Letang in the left circle. Crosby then curled into the slot as Letang threw the puck toward the front of the net, where it caromed off the skate of right winger Colby Armstrong and went directly to Crosby, who threw it past Lehtonen.
The Thrashers got the final goal of regulation during another man-advantage at 1:40 of the third, when Bobby Holik lunged to jam a loose puck under Conklin's right pad.
Both teams had chances before the third ended and again in overtime; Staal, for example, nearly deflected a Malkin pass between Lehtonen's legs with 75 seconds left in overtime.
"I tried to tip it five-hole," he said, "and just missed."
Eventually, Recchi got an opportunity to win a game that had been, as he anticipated, a difficult one for him to play because of his ties to the visiting team.
"It definitely was," he said. "We played pretty well, and they did, too. That made it a little easier because you were really involved in the game, really focused on what you had to do instead of focusing on your [former] teammates over there.
"There were a lot of smiles, a lot of 'heys' out there. It was good. I love those guys, but I'm growing very fond of these guys here."