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Malhotra turns scorer, Hurricanes win

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- Manny Malhotra's leadership and spirit were known commodities when the Carolina Hurricanes gave the veteran center an opportunity at what many believed to be his last comeback attempt at the NHL level following a serious eye injury.

His recent scoring has been a bonus, as the Hurricanes got two goals from Malhotra on Saturday to lead a group of secondary line goal scorers en route to a 6-3 victory over the Ottawa Senators.

A seventh overall pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers, Malhotra has been clutch in the faceoff circle for the Hurricanes (third-best in the league), but with 112 goals in 902 career games, Malhotra has never been much of a scorer.

However, Malhotra, who signed with Carolina as a free agent Oct. 31, has five goals over a 12-game stretch in which the Hurricanes have won nine and begun a march into playoff contention in the Metropolitan Division.

It was Malhotra's his first three-point game with the Hurricanes. "It is a great story; he competes and he raises the bar with our guys, he keeps our players accountable," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said of the 33-year-old Malhotra.

"He just wants to play the game. Anyone in our dressing room can see a guy his age and what he's gone through that has so much passion for the game and his commitment, it's great to see. You can't teach that stuff. That's why we brought him in, but his production has been a bonus."

Said Malhotra: "For us to continue to be successful, we've got to get efforts from all four lines, and not only offensively but defensively. It's nice when we can contribute like this and give (Eric) Staal, (Jeff) Skinner and (Alexander) Semin the night off."

Carolina forwards Staal and Malhotra scored 32 seconds apart during a four-goal second period as the Hurricanes continued their home domination of Ottawa.

Carolina (23-19-9) beat the Senators for the second time this season, outscoring them by a combined 10-4. The Hurricanes are 11-0-1 at home against Ottawa over the last 12 meetings in Raleigh.

"The structure of our game is good right now," said Muller, whose team has scored 40 goals over a 12-game span, which included being shut out twice.

"From the beginning of the year, we emphasized to play well defensively and play on the right side of the puck, and if you do that you force the other teams to play risky, and you can take advantage of it. I think we're starting to learn how to do that now."

The game was switched from Friday night to a noon start after Carolina's game against Philadelphia earlier in the week was postponed by one day because of a snowstorm.

While only a season-low 11,458 turned out at PNC Arena, those who did attend witnessed a high-scoring affair in which seven goals were scored in the second period.

"You see it a lot with these afternoon games, you just don't know what to expect," Muller said of all the goal scoring.

Malhotra added an empty-net goal with 1:41 left as Carolina matched its season-high goal total, also accomplished against Toronto on Jan. 9.

Staal failed to make the Canadian Olympic Team after playing an integral role in 2010 and had only six goals in his last 27 games coming in.

But the Carolina captain was set up on a breakaway by Semin as Staal beat Ottawa backup goalie Robin Lehner between the legs 6:05 into the second period for this 12th and a 2-0 cushion.

More sloppy play in the neutral zone cost the Senators (22-20-10) a half a minute later as left wing Nathan Gerbe, who gave the Hurricanes a first-period lead and had his first career three-point game, converted a nice pass to a streaking Malhotra as the Hurricanes took control.

Fourth-line center Riley Nash added his sixth of the season later in the period as the Hurricanes scored four times in a span of 7:18.

Even slumping right winger Tuomo Ruutu, who had gone 18 games without a goal, got into the scoring act in the second period, notching his fifth with 32.3 seconds left as the Hurricanes grabbed a 5-2 lead.

Red-hot center Kyle Turris scored twice to give him 10 goals in his last 15 games, notching his 16th and 17th goals of the season to keep Ottawa within striking distance.

Center Mika Zibanejad added his 11th 10 seconds after the Ruutu goal to pull the Senators to within two heading into the third.

"You can't play catch-up hockey all the time and expect to have any chance of being successful," Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said. "The goals we gave up in the second period, I don't think we can just say our goalie gave them up. We turned over pucks and didn't put it in the right spots."

Gerbe, who scored a highlight goal shooting the puck between his legs on a breakaway in a 3-2 win Wednesday at Philadelphia, added a second unorthodox score this week when he rifled the puck from well behind the goal line off the pads of Lehner.

Staal and right wing Semin extended their point streaks for five games.

"We're playing a great brand of hockey now, a structured, detailed type of game," Staal said. "When you to that the chances are going to come. In this game, it felt like we were hitting some open areas and capitalizing on the chances we had."

NOTES: The Hurricanes scored first for only the 19th time in 51 games this season. ... Ottawa is in the middle of a schedule that includes eight of 11 road games. ... Carolina G Cam Ward missed his 11th straight game because of a lower body injury and 21st overall. ... The Senators have remained the NHL's most healthy team through 52 games, with only 31 man-games lost. ... Former Carolina D Joe Corvo was a healthy scratch for the 11th time in the last 15 games for the Senators. ... Carolina D Mike Komisarek went 16 games without a point, but has assists in consecutive games. ... Nathan Gerbe is one of four Hurricanes (Jordan Staal, Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey are the others) who have played in all 51 games. ... It was only the third start in the last 16 games for Senators goalie Robin Lehner.
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