DULUTH The Gwinnett Gladiators finally came to life down the stretch and made things interesting, but it was too late to salvage a win.
The Charlotte Checkers won what was a close game until the final period, 6-3 on Thursday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Checkers 6, Gladiators 3
What happened: A 1-0 game for 42 minutes, the red lights were lit up on both ends in the third period. But the Gwinnett Gladiators never fully recovered from the early deficit and couldn't get closer than 4-3 with 2:17 remaining in regulation.
Five for fighting: A fight between Gwinnett's Aaron Brocklehurst and Charlotte's Andrew Carroll exploded after a whistle in the Gladiators' defensive zone with less than a minute to go in the second period. Gear went flying as Brocklehurst landed a couple quick shots from close range. They tumbled to the ice against the end boards and the linesman had a tough time separating the bodies as the vitrol continued to flow freely.
Stand-up moment: Pat Galivan and Tom Zanoski burst through the neutral zone on a short-handed breakaway chances midway through the first period. Galivan was a step ahead on the left wing and centered to Zanoski. Galivan went to the net, ready for the pass or a rebound. Zanoski held the puck and tried to get around diving goalie Frank Doyle. But the netminder came way out of his crease, pounced on the puck and a prime scoring chance vanished.
Next up: The four-game set against the Checkers (10-3-2, 22 points) continues at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in Gwinnett (8-5-2, 18 points). Then the teams go to Charlotte for matchups Sunday and Wednesday.
The Gladiators were down 4-1 with less than six minutes left in the game and scored two quick goals to resuscitate their chances. But Charlotte never relinquished the lead it got a minute into the game and Gwinnett's offensive failure was the biggest reason.
"We pass up so many opportunities to put pucks to the net," head coach Jeff Pyle said. "We pass up opportunities looking for something better when there is nothing better."
The Gladiators are missing three of their more effective offensive weapons. Brad Schell and Scott Mifsud are injured. Matt Caruana is on a callup to the AHL.
"That's still no excuse," Pyle said. "You have to put pucks into the net."
Gwinnett, which lost its last game on a goal in the final minute of regulation, got behind one minute into a well-attended Thanksgiving day matchup with Charlotte.
A feed from behind the net was tipped up and over a tumbling Danny Taylor. Daniel Tkaczuk's goal was the only one of the first period, though there were quite a few chances on both ends of the ice.
Charlotte outshot the Gladiators 17-9 in the first, but Taylor continued to keep Gwinnett in easy striking distance. The Gladiators started to generate more shots and more chances in the second period, but still couldn't crack Checkers' goalie Frank Doyle.
Taylor more than held up his end again with 12 saves, including a beauty with five minutes left in the period. A defensive breakdown allowed Charlotte a good opportunity in Gwinnett's end. Taylor was on his side during a scramble around the net and swept his arm around to meet the puck just as it headed for the goal line. Curled up around the puck, Taylor held on for the whistle.
But the Gladiators hung him out to dry one too many times and Charlotte made it a 2-0 lead 2:55 into the third period. Jean-Philipp Chabot was left unguarded in the slot and had all kinds of time and space to pick his shot. Chabot didn't miss and there was little Taylor could have done at that range.
Staying with what works, Tkaczuk scored again on a feed from Randy Rowe behind the net.
"We didn't quit though," Pyle said. "We made mistakes on the second and third goals, but there were still some good things that happened."
Turning the tables on Charlotte, Gwinnett broke up Doyle's shutout bid with a goal at 11:13.
Adam Berti dished it from behind the net to Matt Siddall on the post. Siddall deflected the shot off Doyle's side and through on the short side to make it a 3-1 game.
Rowe took some of the wind out of Gwinnett's sails with his tally at 14:27, but Jason Lawrence answered a little more than a minute later. Playing his first game for the Gladiaors after being traded from Charlotte, Lawrence flipped a shot on net that got past Doyle.
Then Tom Zanoski cut the gap to 4-3 with a redirect on Sam Roberts' shot from the point at 17:43.
That gave Gwinnett a real chance to tie with over two minutes remaining in regulation. But the Gladiators turned the puck over and Charlotte iced it with an empty netter.
"We make it 4-3, but then we give it away," Pyle said. "We're not earning our breaks."