DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators let off the pressure and as soon as they did, South Carolina capitalized.
The Stingrays scored twice in 29 seconds and rode a hot goaltender to a 3-1 victory before a season-high crowd of 9,059 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center on Saturday.
Philipp Grubauer, who ranks third in the ECHL in save percentage and goals-against average, gave up an early goal, only to stymie the Gladiators from there on out.
"He's actually been tormenting me since 2007 with the German national team," Gwinnett head coach John Wroblewski said. "He's been excellent every single time. I think this is like the sixth time I've gone against Philipp. Three in professional and three in international. The team I've been coaching with has only won once.
"I don't think I'm unique in that. He's an exceptional goalie. He's extremely calm. He takes up a lot of net. Even when we had our traffic down there at the net front, he seemed to swallow up that puck."
South Carolina (13-9-0-1) was also effective at tying up bodies and sticks in all the gritty areas. Gwinnett (10-8-5-2) was repeatedly handcuffed by the Stingrays in the slot and along the boards.
"They've got some big, strong D-men down there," Wroblewski said. "A couple guys who have played in the American League full-time. They know their way around, handling a professional athlete. Guys like (Paul) Baier and (Phil) Oreskovic, they're very difficult to get after.
"I did think we had a very solid and consistent net presence. I did enjoy a lot of what we brought tonight. It was unfortunate that they capitalized like they did in the first and we weren't able to capitalized on their mistakes."
The Stingrays, now tied with the Gladiators atop the tightly packed South Division standings, remain in town for a matinee rematch today. Gwinnett lost consecutive games in regulation for just the second time this season.
"We're sticking with the same game plan," Wroblewski said. "It's not going to change anything. We're going to make sure we emphasize certain areas and just try to hammer it in as often as we can that we need to adhere to what we're talking about.
"Right now, little blinks and slight lapses and it's ending up in our net."
Helped by a large and enthusiastic crowd of kids in one end of the stands, the Gladiators charged out of the gates.
They had good passing and great hustle in the first five minutes. They fueled the fans' fervor further with a 2-on-1 breakaway a minute in and high-energy sustained pressure a few minutes later.
Gwinnett's effort paid off with a goal by Chris Clackson at 7:22. Former Stingray Nikita Kashirsky got a pass from Pat Galivan and snapped a wrister from the top of the circle. The puck hit Grubauer in the shoulder and dropped. A waiting Clackson shoveled it home for the 1-0 lead.
"We got the real nice face-off goal and that's something we've emphasized quite a bit in the last couple weeks," Wroblewski said. "It's one of the few times in the game you can actually control what's going on.
"Their first goal against, it came off a couple of bad bounces, but it was off of a faceoff. That was a little bit disgruntling from our standpoint. But that's hockey and South Carolina made their bounces."
The Gladiators got caught watching the puck and South Carolina roared back with two goals 29 seconds apart, the first unassisted by Pierre-Luc O'Brien on a scramble in front of goalie Marc Cheverie at 12:43.
The Stingrays grabbed a 2-1 lead at 13:12 when Greg Stewart buzzed through the slot and chipped a centering feed just inside the far post.
A turnover along the wall 3 -1/2 minutes later resulted in a 3-1 lead for South Carolina, which was coming off a shutout loss in Greenville a night earlier.
"We did not work away from the puck consistently," Wroblewski said. "There were quite a few times we had a play on our stick and sent it to the wrong area of the ice."
Gwinnett pushed back in the second and earned many good scoring chances, starting with a shot Kashirsky rang off the crossbar five minutes in.
But Grubauer stonewalled the Gladiators on shot after quality shot.
Andy Brandt had a perfect tip of a sizzling centering pass only to watch Grubauer slide smoothly across and gobble it up.
Seconds later, Kashirsky hammered a point-blank shot into Grubauer's stomach.
A minute more and Bryan Brutlag was denied on another hard blast in close.
"I thought we did a lot of nice things," Wroblewski said.
"If you broke down the quality scoring chances of that game, I was very happy with our opportunities. I just think they did a much better job of capitalizing, especially in that first period."