PITTSBURGH — The comeback of a season was needed to keep the Ottawa Senators exactly where they've been all season, in first place of the crowded-at-the-top NHL Eastern Conference.
Daniel Alfredsson scored on a backhander with 3.2 seconds remaining in overtime and the Senators, at risk of falling out of the conference lead for the first time, rallied from three goals down to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 Saturday.
Alfredsson scored the winner on Ottawa's final rush of overtime, not long after Pittsburgh's Ryan Malone put a shot off the right post and goalie Ray Emery barely got his glove on Sergei Gonchar's hard slap shot from the high slot.
Ty Conklin stopped Alfredsson's initial shot, but the puck rebounded back to the Senators captain and, after cutting across the slot, he put a shot past Conklin to the short side for his 35th goal and sixth in his last 11 games against Pittsburgh.
"It was a character game. We came together. The effort was there, but it's hard when you're always in the box," Alfredsson said, a reference to Pittsburgh getting the first six power-play chances.
Dany Heatley scored twice to key the comeback after coach John Paddock broke up the Senators' top line of Heatley, Alfredsson and Jason Spezza at the start, though they were together at times later in the game. Spezza assisted on Heatley's second goal, which tied it at 3 about six minutes into the third.
NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin's 10-game scoring streak was halted, as was Pittsburgh's three-game winning streak.
The comeback was reminiscent of Pittsburgh's 6-5 Thanksgiving night win in Ottawa in which the Penguins twice rallied from two-goal deficits – a comeback win that may have turned the Penguins' season around following an 8-11-2 start.
The Senators, 23-16-6 since winning 13 of their first 14 games, were in danger of being passed by Atlantic Division leader New Jersey and Pittsburgh on the same day after going 1-2-2 in their previous five. The Devils, who now trail Ottawa 78-77 in the conference, beat the New York Islanders 4-2 earlier Saturday to take a one-point lead over Pittsburgh in the division race.
With Emery looking shaky early on – Paddock chose not to start Martin Gerber, who is 23-10-2 – the Penguins opened their 3-0 lead despite going 1-for-6 with the man advantage. Ottawa's only power-play chance, which failed, came in the third period.
"How often do you come back from being down 3-0, especially with the help of no penalties?" Paddock said. "I think it will make them feel good and they'll be a little bit looser."
Petr Sykora's slap shot from the top of the left circle eluded Emery only 1:47 into the game, with the Penguins already on the first of their three power plays in the opening five minutes.
Colby Armstrong and Jeff Taffe also scored, but a frustrated Malkin – who had 30 points as Pittsburgh went 9-4-2 in its first 15 games without the injured Sidney Crosby – broke his stick in frustration against the boards after failing to convert three excellent scoring chances on a single shift during the second period.
"He caused some problems but we were able to keep him off the scoresheet," Emery said of Malkin, who had scored in every game since Jan. 30. "It (the win) makes everything better after how we started and the mistakes we made."
After weathering all the Penguins' power plays, the Senators finally found their offense after being limited to 10 goals in their previous five games as Cory Stillman and Heatley scored less than five minutes apart later in the second.
Heatley's 30th goal, and his ninth in his last seven games against Pittsburgh, tied it at 3 and came on a shot from in front after defenseman Rob Scuderi left him to try to make a play behind the net.
"They've got guys who can score and their big guys did," Armstrong said.
Notes: Malkin had at least one goal in six of his previous seven games ... Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury, out since Dec. 6 with a high ankle sprain, will return to Pittsburgh on Sunday after making his fifth and final rehabilitation start for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL) ... Ottawa is 6-6 in overtime, Pittsburgh is 7-6 ... Crosby's return from a high ankle sprain remains uncertain. He has been out for five weeks; he was initially told he would be out 6-8 weeks.