Kovalev scored a goal in regulation and then had the only tally in the shootout to lead the Penguins to a 6-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
Kovalev, in his second game back with the Penguins after being acquired from Ottawa on Thursday, beat goalie James Reimer with a hard wrist shot.
The veteran forward was reacquired by the Penguins in a trade with Ottawa on Thursday and is hoping to salvage a disappointing season with a franchise for which he played from 1998-2003.
"It brings back old memories," the 38-year-old forward 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 wear and tear of an unlikely push toward the playoffs is starting to show on the Maple Leafs. They squandered four leads Saturday before Kovalev finally finished them off.
It was a particularly difficult game for Reimer, who made some splendid saves in overtime but was beaten five times in an outing for the second time in his young NHL career.
"I was feeling pretty tired toward the end of the game," said Reimer, who made 35 saves.
Joffrey Lupul had two goals, and Colby Armstrong, Clarke MacArthur and Dion Phaneuf also scored for the Maple Leafs, 8-2-3 since the All-Star break. Toronto closed within five points of eighth-place Carolina in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"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," Maple 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 -- who played for Pittsburgh from 1998-2003 -- tied it just before the intermission. Kovalev scored with 46.8 seconds remaining, giving him 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 Grabovkski 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.
The goals kept coming as Phaneuf turned over the puck to allow Talbot to tie it with a short-handed breakaway at 6:34. But Phaneuf one-timed home a shot less than a minute later to put Toronto back ahead 5-4. A floating wrist shot from Rupp tied it 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."
- Paul Henderson performed the ceremonial faceoff in the sweater he wore during the 1972 Summit Series.
- Joey Crabb was a healthy scratch for Toronto.
- Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who hasn't played since Feb. 16, served as Reimer's backup.
- Penguins D Paul Martin missed his fourth straight game with a neck and shoulder injury.
- Letestu returned to Pittsburgh's lineup for the first time since Jan. 25.