By Christine Troyke
DULUTH - After giving up the game-tying goal with three seconds left in regulation, the Gwinnett Gladiators triumphed over Charlotte, 3-2, in a shootout on Saturday.
Goaltender Dan Turple made a career-high 48 saves in a fantastic effort between the pipes and the Gladiators won for the second straight night.
Turple turned aside all but one attempt in the five-man shootout while Derek Nesbitt and Mike Vigilante scored for Gwinnett. Vigilante had the last chance and buried the puck to send the Gladiators streaming off the bench to mob Turple and Vigilante.
It capped a stretch of four games in five days and the fatigue was obvious. But Gwinnett (11-3-1) gutted out the victory, its second straight after losing two in a row, and was given the next two days off.
"If you knew how tired these guys were, down to five (defensemen), those guys have been eating up minutes," Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. "I told them, 'I don't care if we're sloppy tonight, you find a way.'
"And that's what they did."
Turple had no chance at making the save on Charlotte's first goal, the only scoring of the first period. The Gladiators were scrambling around in their own zone and Turple made the first save. But the rebound came straight to Blake Bellefeuille in the slot. Bellefeuille snapped it home at 6:06.
Turple was spot-on through intermission and Gwinnett's best penalty killer. The 6-foot-6 goalie stoned Charlotte (7-3-3) on two terrific point-blank scoring chances in the last five minutes of the period.
"Turps was awesome," Pyle said. "This is one of the better stretches I've seen him play. Him and (Craig Kowalski) are holding us in games and winning games for us."
The second-year pro continued to keep the Gladiators close with sharp play until Mike Hamilton tied it 1-1 with a power-play goal at 16:57.
Charlotte goaltender Len DiCostanzo had been doing an admirable job keeping Gwinnett off the board. He denied Lou Dickenson on two breakaways in the first period and gobbled up a penalty shot from Andy Brandt early in the second.
But DiCostanzo was called for delay of game at 16:35 and 22 seconds later, Hamilton corralled a bouncing rebound on the doorstep and put the puck in off the post.
With time winding down in an impressive goaltending battle, Bryan Dobek scored a huge goal at 14:35 of the third period. Dobek stepped into his shot an unloaded a snap shot. DiCostanzo was screened by his defenseman and Dobek's shot was perfectly placed into the far top corner.
Dobek, who was signed less than a week ago by the Gladiators, thrust his arms in the air and sparked a major celebration.
"We were looking for a boost," Vigilante said. "It was four games in five nights and I didn't feel the energy in the locker room before the game like I did (Friday).
"It gave us life and that's what we needed in games like that when you're fighting fatigue."
That joy was exceeded by the Checkers when Mark Smith tied the game with a mere 3 seconds left in regulation.
Charlotte pulled DiCostanzo for the extra attacker and with a scrum of bodies on top of the crease, the puck came right to Smith in the slot. He had Turple dead to rights and forced overtime with his second goal of the season.
Pyle wasn't at all upset by the late goal. He was, instead, impressed with the effort Gwinnett turned in despite the heavy schedule that included a trip to South Carolina on Friday night.
"It was a huge goal by Dobber," Pyle said. "We missed some opportunities early. You could see how tired we were. And we got no bounces. I told the guys, just fight through it.
"Maybe a shootout win is good for us, too. We found a way. We came back and won two tough games at the end of this. So I have no problems with it at all. I'm proud of them."
Note: Half of Gwinnett's top defensive pair, Jim Jackson, had to be placed on injured reserve after separating a shoulder in Friday's game. Jackson leads the team with a plus-minus rating of +8 and had nine points in 14 games so far this season.