Gladiators look to end series tonight

Unbeaten in all five of their road games in the playoffs, the Gwinnett Gladiators want to make it six.

The Gladiators headed to Toledo last Wednesday to play three games in Ohio. Tied 1-1 in their best-of-seven American Conference final series, the team had modest aspirations - in print anyway. The goal was to win at least one and get the series back to Gwinnett.

Two wins later, the Gladiators have gotten greedy.

They want to finish off the Storm tonight in Game 5 at the Toledo Sports Arena.

No one is saying this will be easy or making any guarantees, but it's what they're gunning for.

"They've got good goaltending and they're a good team," said rookie forward Scott Mifsud, who potted the winning goal in Sunday's Game 4. "We don't want to let them hang around.

"We want to come out hard, weather their storm a bit - no pun intended - and really try to get that first goal. It'd be nice to play with the lead."

Gwinnett scored the first goal of the series, but has had to come back in every game since.

In the opener, even scoring first, the Gladiators got down 3-1 late in the second period. They rallied with four straight goals to win and afterward Toledo head coach Nick Vitucci said the Storm learned a valuable lesson about not sitting back against Gwinnett.

Toledo got up 3-1 again in Game 2, then allowed the Gladiators to tie it and force overtime. The Storm won the game on a power-play goal in OT, but have let leads in both subsequent games slip away.

"We're confident, but we know they're not going to give up," center Brad Schell said. "It's one of toughest places we've played in all year and we've got to have a better start.

"Hopefully we can get the first couple goals and put them on their heels."

Sunday's 4-2 decision was the most damning for Toledo since it put the Storm on the brink of elimination. Toledo was leading 2-0 after two periods and couldn't hold off the Gladiators, even with No. 1 goalie Drew MacIntyre in net. MacIntyre was called up to the American Hockey League right before the conference finals started and flew in specifically to start Game 4 against Gwinnett.

MacIntyre, who came into the game with a 5-0 record and a 1.80 goals-against average in this year's ECHL playoffs, shut out the high-powered Gladiators for two periods.

But once Milan Gajic scored on a breakaway 40 seconds into the third, Gwinnett was off to the races.

"Especially as early as it came in the third, everybody got the feeling that we were going to come back," Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. "We dominated the game, I thought."

Jeff Campbell tied the game on a penalty shot at 5:35 and Mifsud collected his second game-winner of the postseason midway through the third. MacIntyre was recalled by Grand Rapids on Monday and so he won't be available for tonight's Game 5.

"MacIntyre came out real big for them in the first," Mifsud said. "Five-on-five we were outplaying them all night. Obviously getting that goal as early as we did in the third was huge. And Soupy is automatic (on penalty shot situations).

"Even though they got up on us a couple goals, we were still playing extremely well. (Goalie Sean) Fields played a heck of a game as well. We just keep coming and I think we wear teams down in the third period."

The fans, one of whom was escorted out of the building after reaching over the low glass and grabbing Guillaume Desbiens' arm, didn't suffer from the same malaise.

For the second straight game, Mifsud said, the crowd didn't quiet down after Gwinnett took the lead in the third period.

"When Lane (Manson) got in the fight and did pretty well against their tough guy, he was getting riddled with pop and popcorn," Mifsud said. "The fans were throwing stuff on the ice.

"Last night, even after (Jeff) Dwyer got an empty netter with something like 47 seconds left, people were still yelling at us. They go right to the end here."

If the Toledo players can do the same, the series will come back to Gwinnett for Game 6 on Saturday. Game 7, also if necessary, would be on Sunday.

"We don't want to wait until Saturday or Sunday; we want to make it as difficult as possible on Tuesday," said Pyle, who was clearly enjoying the position his team was in on Monday in Toledo.

"The only thing that could be better right now is if there was rest in the Middle East and the sun was shining here."