Malhotra's goal in OT snaps Canes' winless skid as Flyers fall 2-1

calexander@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2013 

— A week ago, Manny Malhotra was just hoping to play in another NHL game.

But to win a game for the Carolina Hurricanes, in overtime, to end a five-game losing streak? Even Malhotra couldn’t have dreamed of that.

That’s just the way it unfolded Tuesday at PNC Arena. The Canes fought back at the end of regulation, tying the score on Jordan Staal’s goal in the final minute, then won it 2:40 into overtime on Malhotra’s breakaway score.

“It’s a testament to our persistence that we stayed with it,” Malhotra said. “That persistence got us the win.”

The Flyers, another desperate team, had taken a 1-0 lead on Scott Hartnell’s power-play goal with 3 minutes, 58 seconds left in regulation. Hartnell redirected a shot by Kimmo Timonen past Canes goalie Justin Peters, who played so well for so long, he would be named the game’s first star.

Would the Canes lose again? Not this night, when the team broke its five-game winless skid with a 2-1 overtime win.

Canes coach Kirk Muller pulled Peters for a sixth attacker. The Canes kept the puck in the offensive zone, and Eric Staal found Jordan Staal open in the low slot for a bullet of a shot that finally beat Flyers goalie Steve Mason.

With 52.3 seconds left in the third period, it was 1-1. Soon it was in overtime – and Malhotra’s time to shine.

Malhotra’s story is a good one. His career was in jeopardy after a horrendous injury, when he took a puck to his left eye. A free agent after last season, the veteran couldn’t find an NHL team that wanted him as questions remained about his vision.

The Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL affiliate, signed him to a professional tryout contract in early October. After eight games in Charlotte, the Canes signed him to a one-year contract Thursday, bringing him in to center the the fourth line, win faceoffs, kill penalties and offer added experience.

But to win his third game for the Canes in OT?

“We obviously had the momentum after the Staal goal,” Malhotra said. “But in OT it’s a whole new ball game.”

Defenseman Ron Hainsey made the pass to Malhotra that resulted in the breakaway and his first goal since March 26, 2012, when he scored for the Vancouver Canucks against the Los Angeles Kings.

“I felt the heat coming from behind, so I wanted to make sure I got there as quick as I could and got a shot off,” Malhotra said. “I think it surprised him.”

Asked when he scored his last OT winner, Malhotra smiled.

“I couldn’t tell you,” he said. “I’m not sure I ever had one, to be honest.”

Had it not been for Staal’s score, there would have been no OT. And the big center had been denied by Mason on a shorthanded try in the first period, warding off the puck with his stick handle.

“He’s probably going to feel the monkey off his back,” Muller said of Staal, who had scored one goal this season.

But so many had a hand in the win for the Canes (5-7-3), whose two home victories this season both have been over the Flyers.

“We worked for our bounces, and we were rewarded,” Jordan Staal said.

Peters did his part with 28 saves, being sound in net and making timely stops to earn his first win of the season. The Canes matched the physical Flyers hit for hit, although Nathan Gerbe’s scrap with Flyers defenseman Mark Streit late in the third resulted in the power play and the Hartnell score.

But Staal scored, and Malhotra became an unlikely hero.

“That was a lot of fun,” Peters said. “It’s a great storyline, to have Manny get the winner in OT.

“It was Manny’s night. Wow. Welcome to the team, Manny.”

See the box score from this game.

Alexander: 919-829-8945

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