PNC ARENA—The sleeper has awoken, at least for one night.
In just his third game with the Carolina Hurricanes, Manny Malhotra scored an inspiring breakaway goal in overtime to down the Philadelphia Flyers, 2-1.
It was the kind of stirring vindication that could rouse this team’s offense from a season-long slumber.
After yielding a late power-play score by Scott Hartnell, the Canes forced overtime when Jordan Staal tallied with just 52 seconds left in regulation while goalie Justin Peters, who made 28 saves in his first win on the season, was pulled for the extra attacker.
Despite yielding the late goals, Steve Mason was excellent in the Philadelphia goal, saving 36 shots in the loss.
The Hurricanes and Flyers delivered just what you might expect from a meeting of two of the lowest-scoring teams so far this season. Open shots missing the net to clack off the glass behind it; huge slapshot windups exploding sticks and sending the puck skittering to the corner; shot-passes to the crease arriving too early or too late for a darting teammate.
The game was scoreless through 55 minutes as fans of both teams took turns groaning at missed opportunities, including a long two-man advantage for the Canes that straddled the second intermission.
But then Nathan Gerbe took one too many crosschecks from Streit in the Philly crease and threw the defender to the ice. Given a double minor that he really didn't deserve, Gerbe had to watch Hartnell tip home a Kimmo Timonen point shot that withstood a brief review.
Familiar with the losing script, Canes fans began filing out. But the team pressed in the final handful of minutes, breaking through when Jordan Staal cut to the net to convert a neat feed from his older brother Eric to knot the game in the final minute.
That set up Malhotra’s smart play in the extra frame. His backcheck surprised Streit, who lost the puck to Ron Hainsey. Hainsey’s lead pass caught up to an already breaking Malhotra, who held off a hook from behind to flip the puck between a sliding Mason’s pads.
The newest Cane vanished beneath a mob of his teammates against the end boards as Mason jabbed his stick half-heartedly into the crease’s blue ice.
What a moment it was for Malhotra, whose career had been considered ended by a major eye injury while he was playing for Vancouver in 2011. He’s earned his way back into the NHL the hard way. The Canucks essentially gave up on him after the organization decided his vision was too limited for him to be useful on the ice, placing him on injured reserve after nine games last season.
He signed a tryout contract with the AHL Charlotte Checkers—usually a last-gasp career move for a veteran hanging on to the game too long—and played well enough to garner a two-way contract with the Hurricanes. An injury call-up three games ago, Malhotra’s playing like he doesn’t want to go back to Charlotte, winning faceoffs at a brisk clip and playing a solid overall game.
Tonight’s goal should go a ways toward keeping him here.