Gladiators bury Warriors to close out weekend set

DULUTH — Ryan Garbutt scored two goals for the second straight game and the Gwinnett Gladiators went for the jugular when they had the chance, blowing out Greenville in the third period for a 6-1 victory Sunday.

In a pitched 2-1 battle after two periods, Garbutt scored an unassisted, short-handed goal 4:40 into the third and it was all Gladiators from there.

Garbutt rolled through the neutral zone, peeled left as he crossed the blue line and fired a shot on goal. It slid smoothly past goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris and proved, once again, any shot on net is a good shot on net.

“That was a huge goal by Garbs,” said forward Michael Forney, who scored the game-winner.

Less than a minute later, Greenville's Blake Parlett was called for tripping and, after the whistle, Brendan Connolly made contact with Derek Nesbitt. He was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for it and Gwinnett went on a 5-on-3 power play.

Just 12 seconds into the two-man advantage, Sam Klassen broke Danick Paquette's stick in half and went to the box for slashing.

The Gladiators, who now lead the ECHL with 16 points, didn't waste the opportunity.

Garbutt scored his second straight goal, banking a shot from the goal line off the netminder at 6:10 and captain Sam Roberts fired a rocket from the blue line home at 7:06. The goals, both scored 5-on-3, broke the game wide open.

Dan Kissel added an unassisted goal of his own with a clean wrister at 17:24 and shut the door on a three-game series against the Road Warriors.

“We played sloppy in the first and I just told the guys they have learn that being consistent is what it's about,” Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. “We're getting a little bit better. Third period I just wanted us to play good 'D' and see what happened.

“They gave us every opportunity to win and we did a good job. I got a little more ice time for some of the other guys that don't necessarily get it, on penalty kill and stuff. They battled hard. They battled as a team.”

For the second straight night, Greenville scored the game's first goal on a power play.

Gladiators goalie Billy Sauer had no chance to make the save when a shot from the point was chopped down by one of the Warriors in the slot. The move redirected the puck to the far side where Shane Harper had an open net at 5:12.

That was the last puck to get by Sauer, who made 32 saves, a number of them in the closing minutes when Greenville continued to fight despite the lopsided score.

“Sauer was great tonight,” Pyle said. “Through traffic and getting deflections out of the air. He was really good.”

Then Gladiators' sluggishness started to wear off and they began generating some quality scoring chances late in the first period. And it's not like Gwinnett (7-2-2) hadn't overcome an early one-goal deficit this season. Or this weekend.

“Definitely with this team, there aren't depths we feel we can't overcome,” Forney said. “We have a positive, up-beat team and we really believe we can win every game.”

They also really began to throw their weight around, taking the physicality up notably — especially Danick Paquettte who was a one-man wrecking crew all through the first period.

The play improved significantly and the effort paid off in the second.

“The second period, we took control,” Pyle said. “You could tell they were a little tired so we wanted to wear them down. The first period we really didn't give ourselves much of a chance. We kept kind of killing our momentum. Then in the second we got that first goal, which we needed, then the big power-play goal.”

Gwinnett scored two goals about three minutes apart to wrest the lead from Greenville.

Nesbitt, who is tied with Garbutt for second in the ECHL with 17 points, scored his eighth goal of the season at 4:39. Matt Case did some impressive work to create the chance, dancing around two defenders to get in close and then dished to Nesbitt who was camped on top of the crease and pushed it past Grumet-Morris.

The Gladiators took a 2-1 lead on a power-play tally by Forney at 7:48. The puck was pin-balling around the crease with Gwinnett converging and Tim Miller managed to shovel it over to Forney on the left post. Forney bodied the puck down out of the air and smacked it into the back of the net for his second goal of the season.

“Garbs is obviously playing really well, and Nessie, but just as a group, everybody is starting to catch onto the little things right now,” Pyle said. “Once we do that stuff, we're hard to play against.”