DULUTH First Sam Roberts preserved the tie. Then he won the game.
Gwinnett's All-Star rookie defenseman scored in overtime to propel the Gladiators past league-leading South Carolina 6-5 in front of a loud crowd of 5,457 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
What happened: In a see-saw battle, Gwinnett had the last parry to win in overtime. The Gladiators led 2-0, gave up three straight, fought back for a 4-3 lead and then needed a tying goal from Scott Mifsud in the third to force overtime. Sam Roberts' laser from the top of the circle ended the game and snapped a four-game losing streak for Gwinnett.
Five for fighting: Matt Siddall, who was back in the lineup after an illness kept him out of two games, took exception to the actions of Trevor Bruess in the first period and the two got into an altercation. Up against the boards in front of the Gladiators' bench, Siddall couldn't get clear to really connect on any punches though.
On deck: Gwinnett and South Carolina travel to North Charleston, S.C., for today's 4 p.m. puck drop
Roberts got a lateral feed from Matt Siddall at the blue line, walked in and buried his shot. The team celebrated wildly after snapping a four-game winless streak, mobbing Roberts along the boards.
"Siddall made a great pass, had his head up the whole way down the ice," Roberts said. "That's what Jeff tells us, look for those openings as defenseman as we're coming over the blue line. There was a big opening in the high slot, Sids found me."
But as big as his shot was, Roberts' effort to defuse a breakaway with five minutes left in regulation was just as big.
Roberts dug to catch up to Keith Johnson, who already had two goals and two assists in the game, who crossed the blue line with no one between him and goalie Danny Taylor.
Roberts got as close as he could and made his play. He dove forward and managed to get the blade of his stick on the puck. Johnson wasn't able to get more than a rolling shot on net and Taylor gobbled it up even as Roberts' momentum carried him into the end boards.
Taylor skated over and whacked Roberts on the leg pads in silent and heartfelt thanks.
"He was my guy so I knew if he got that goal or if he got a shot off, it was going to be on me," Roberts. "So I put my head down and was lucky enough to get the puck just at the last second. Thank goodness for that."
Roberts' play allowed Gwinnett to hang onto the 5-5 tie Scott Mifsud had forged on a very timely goal at 10:37 of the third period.
The skilled forward who once put up 94 points in a season for Gwinnett, was on a nine-game scoreless drought. Mifsud hadn't scored since Nov. 7 although that includes a month on injured reserve was also coming off a difficult game.
After playing like he had a hole in his stick Friday, Mifsud finally put a puck in the back of the net. A rebound from Aaron Brockelhurst's shot from the point pin-balled around the crease. It came to Mifsud on the far post.
He lifted a back-handed shot top shelf and dropped to his knees in celebration.
"It was one of those games (Friday) where the puck never seemed to sit flat and those are the games you've got to work through," Mifsud said. "It was one of those games for us as a team.
"This was a huge win for us. Obviously, I've been a little snakebit, so to get that one out of the way felt good. But just a good, character, come-from-behind win tonight. I think a lot of night's we've deserved better than we've showed on the scoreboard and I think we really earned this one tonight."
For the second time in as many nights against South Carolina, the Gladiators got out to a 2-0 lead in the first period.
For the second straight game, they couldn't hold off the Stingrays.
After goals by Drew Paris and Jason Lawrence, who converted on a 2-on-1 breakaway with a rifle shot into the far top corner at 11:51, South Carolina began its comeback a minute later.
Johnson swept around the corner boards and slid the puck under Taylor.
A gross turnover in Gwinnett's zone, a nice backhanded centering feed from the wall and Johnson tied it 3:19 into the second period.
The Stingrays grabbed a 3-2 lead on an embarrassing short-handed goal at 7:49. Dylan Yeo capped a crisp passing play that made the Gladiators look like pylons.
"With us being a young team, we're going through a phase where a lot of rookies are getting a lot of ice time," Pyle said. "So they're building their resumes and we're making some mistakes. I see that. I'm sure Danny wishes he could have some back. But we battled every night and I'll live with that."
Gwinnett rallied to take a 4-3 lead on goals by Dan Sullivan and Matt Siddall.
Sullivan banged home a rebound at 9:40 before Siddall made a pretty move to get clear of a defender and ripped his shot from the high slot into the back of the net at 12:57.
But the Stingrays haven't gotten to the top of the ECHL standings by accident and another Gwinnett lead evaporated.
More good passing tied the game 4-4 at 14:24 and then a soft goal restored South Carolina's lead at 17:38. Taylor went to field a shot with his glove, bobbled it and Jake Hauswirth jammed it home for the 5-4 advantage.
"Obviously they're a great team," Roberts said. "And we've had quite the rivalry with them all year. We seemed to have their number at the start of the year and lately they've been kind of taking it to us.
"So to get that win the way we did, after giving up the lead, is just a confidence booster for everybody in the room."