RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have made a habit of digging an early hole in recent games, and so it was against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.
Nine minutes into the game, the Flyers held a two-goal lead and Carolina’s struggles against the Metropolitan Division looked like they would continue.
Instead, the Hurricanes made it interesting by scoring four straight goals in just over 15 minutes of game time to take control, yielding two goals, then winning in overtime on a Dougie Hamilton solo effort for a 5-4 victory in front of 15,072 at PNC Arena.
One of those in attendance caused a surge of interest shortly after Carolina had built a 4-2 lead.
Justin Williams, the semi-retired right wing who captained the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference Final last season, was shown on the team’s broadcast in the suite of owner Tom Dundon wearing a Hurricanes hat.
By the time coach Rod Brind’Amour’s postgame press conference was over, official word that Williams had signed a one-year, incentive-laden deal to play the rest of the season with the Hurricanes had come down.
Despite everything that seemed to be going right by mid-game, the start of the game was anything but ideal.
“It was a tough start, obviously. I think a couple weird goals,” Brind’Amour said. “I give the guys credit, though. Nobody on the bench was hanging their heads or anything.”
Reimer allowed a soft goal just 37 seconds into the game when Flyers winger Travis Konecny’s seemingly harmless wide-angle shot trickled through the Carolina goalie for an early 1-0 Philadelphia lead.
The Flyers then made it a two-goal lead when Carolina defenseman Haydn Fleury’s clearing attempt went right to Jakub Voracek, who skated in on Reimer and slid the puck to Michael Raffl for an easy tap-in at 8:57 of the first.
“He wanted to have a couple of those back, for sure,” Brind’Amour said of Reimer (17 saves). “I haven’t talked to him, but the first one I know he didn’t like.”
The Hurricanes, however, got the two goals back before the end of the period.
First, Lucas Wallmark squeezed the rebound of a Brock McGinn shot through Brian Elliott (28 saves) at 9:40 for his ninth goal of the season to cut the lead in half. Then captain Jordan Staal made a beautiful cross-ice feed to Warren Foegele, who lifted the puck over Elliott’s shoulder to tie the game at 15:27 of the first to even the score.
Carolina’s defense got involved early in the second.
Sebastian Aho set up Jake Gardiner for a blast above the left faceoff dot that cleanly beat Elliott’s glove hand to give the Hurricanes their first lead at 3:12 of the middle frame.
Foegele then got his second point of the night with a ferocious forecheck that forced a turnover — and left him briefly on the ice after he took a big hit from Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov to secure the takeaway.
The puck got to Hamilton, who worked it to the right point for a one-timer by Joel Edmundson that also bested an unscreened Elliott for a 4-2 advantage at 4:57.
“We’ve got to get back to our identity, and that’s just playing fast and hard and making the right decisions at the right time,” Foegele said.
Philadelphia got one back late in the second when Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin passed the puck off Flyers center Kevin Hayes’ skates. The puck wound up on Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s stick to Reimer’s left, and his fluttering shot again snuck through the Carolina goalie’s upper body to cut the deficit to one with under six minutes remaining in the second.
After a tight 15 minutes in the third period, the Flyers knotted the game when defenseman Travis Sanheim wheeled around the net and used the traffic behind Reimer to get free, curling in front and scoring low to tie the game with only 4:11 left.
But while Sanheim earned a point for the Flyers with the tying goal, he was part of the reason Carolina earned the second one in overtime.
Hamilton got the puck from Aho swooped around two Flyers defenders and closed in on Sanheim. Noticing the Philadelphia defenseman was without his stick, Hamilton shot through the defenseman’s legs and also through Elliott’s, winning the game at 1:59 of overtime.
“I didn’t know until I just turned the corner and he didn’t have his stick,” Hamilton said. “I was going to try and deke him, but I couldn’t really deke him. I just tried to see if I could get in there without his stick and saw I could get a little shot through.
It was not a game the way Brind’Amour would have drawn it up, including the winning goal.
“No, no,” the coach said when asked if Hamilton game-winner was in the playbook. “But … we do have those players now that we didn’t have in the past that have the ability to (be) game-changers, and obviously that was one of them.”
And Brind’Amour is adding another one that he’s very familiar with in Williams.
Williams signed a one-year contract that will pay him a prorated $700,000 base salary, and the 38-year-old can earn up to $1.3 million in incentives based on personal and team performance.
It will be Williams’ 19th NHL season, eight of which he’s spent at least a part of in Carolina. The 2014 Conn Smythe winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion — including in 2006 with the Hurricanes — opted to not retire following last season but rather “step away” from the game.
He began skating in recent weeks and in the last few days — with media leaks seemingly fueling negotiations — speculation mounted that he would be returning to the ice.
Williams is a veteran of 1,244 regular season games and has scored 312 goals and 786 points with four teams — Philadelphia, Carolina, Los Angeles and Washington — and earned the moniker “Mr. Game 7” for his clutch performances in winner-take-all playoff games during his career.
He helped the Hurricanes reach the Eastern Conference Final last season — including assisting on Brock’ McGinn’s double-overtime winner in Game 7 of Round 1 against the defending champion Capitals — and had 23 goals and 53 points while playing all 82 games. It was the second straight season the team’s oldest player did not miss a game.
He missed the first 43 this season pondering his return, but the Colbourg, Ontario, native is now back with the team and will have a noon press conference Wednesday to be formally reintroduced.
“Well, there’s no adjustment because we know what he is,” Brind’Amour said of Williams after Tuesday’s game but before his return was official. “He’s been here, he’s a Hurricane. I don’t think there’ll be any adjustment if that happens. It would be an adjustment for him to just got back up to speed. That’s the whole thing — he’s been out a long time.
“But like I said many times, we’d obviously welcome him back. This would be a huge addition for us.”
Notes: Jordan Martinook registered his 100th career NHL point with a secondary assist on Wallmark’s goal. … The win was Reimer’s first since Dec. 19. … Andrei Svechnikov was benched for a couple of shifts after taking a third period slashing penalty. “Obviously, I wasn’t too happy about it,” Brind’Amour said. “Send a little message to him. But obviously, he’s too important to be in the penalty box.” … Foegele, Gardiner and Hamilton all had a goal and an assist, and Aho finished with two assists. … Erik Haula won 11 of 16 faceoffs. .. Nino Niederreiter has registered four shots on goal in back-to-back games, but his point drought reached four. … Trevor van Riemsdyk was a healthy scratch for Carolina.