DULUTH — Edward Pasquale denied South Carolina on four of five shootout attempts and backstopped the Gwinnett Gladiators to a crucial 5-4 victory on Sunday.
After watching a two-goal lead slip away in the final five minutes of regulation, Pasquale and the Gladiators persevered in the shootout. Gwinnett beat South Carolina for a second straight day and picked up two more essential points to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Gladiators also remain unbeaten when leading after two periods (16-0-0-0), although they have previously led a lead slip away in the third only to rally for a win after 60 minutes.
“We worked hard and in the end we found a way to get two points,” Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. “These two games were huge for us.
“As tired as they were, I can live with the last two goals. You're not happy about it, but as long as you get the two points, you can deal with it. Had we lost in the shootout, it would have been a bitter, bitter, bitter loss.”
In an eventful first period, the Gladiators grabbed a 3-1 lead but also saw an already short bench depleted.
Danick Paquette scored the first of his two goals just 2:35 into the game. It was an easy put-away with South Carolina's Jake Hauswirth falling on top of his own goalie, Shane Owen.
The Stingrays tied it a little more than two minutes later on a wrister by Trent Campbell that zipped past Pasquale's reaching glove.
But Paquette's second tally at 12:16 and pushed the lead to 3-1 just 19 seconds later.
Paquette was left unguarded at the bottom of the circle and Kyle Kucharski sent a sharply angled feed through the crease.
“Our third line played exceptionally well,” Pyle said. “They got us a lead and those are huge. We needed that third line to come up big and it did.”
In a similar play moments later, Michael Forney was behind the South Carolina net and found Andy Brandt alone in the slot. Brandt whipped the puck past Owen at 12:35 and the Stingrays spent their timeout to regroup.
South Carolina got a premium scoring chance on the very next shift.
Tommy Goebel raced in alone on Pasquale, but the Atlanta Thrashers' prospect robbed him to preserve the lead.
A boarding major, and game misconduct, on Justin Milo put the Stingrays on a score-at-will power play for five of the last 6 1/2 minutes of the period. Milo, who played for South Carolina before coming to Gwinnett, crunched Derek Keller along the wall in the corner.
Milo's ejection and an injury to defenseman Cody Brookwell earlier in the period took the Gladiators bench down to just 13 skaters.
But the remaining players did an incredible job on the penalty kill, shifting and attacking with machine-like precision. The Stingrays managed a scant few quality scoring chances in the five minutes and no goals as Gwinnett retained its 3-1 margin.
“Milo's been playing really well and he's a big part of that third line,” Pyle said. “He takes charge of it defensively. (Kucharski) has been good, too. But bottom line, you're short and you're missing a centerman that does some pretty good things. So losing Milo hurt us, but the boys stepped up.”
Brookwell, who took a shot off his foot, returned at the start of the second and the Gladiators maintained their two-goal lead. Although South Carolina first cut it to 3-2 during a delayed penalty to Paquette at 10:42.
Tim Miller answered at 11:49 on the power play. Looking for options as he cut through the face-off circle, Miller had an open lane and simply beat Owen cleanly with a low wrister.
Gwinnett again spent the better part of the period's last 6 1/2 minutes on the penalty kill and again held off the Stingrays — thanks in large part to a brilliant save by Pasquale with less than four minutes to go.
Josh Godfrey, who broke former Gladiator Jon Awe's hardest slap shot record at this year's ECHL All-Star skills competition, wound up a cannon from inside the blue line. Pasquale was on his knees and reached up to rip the blistered puck out of mid-air with a flashing glove.
“That's what keeps you in games,” Pyle said. “When you're short-handed, you need those big saves.”
The majority of another penalty carried over into the third. Gwinnett killed that off, too, but then took its foot off the gas in the last five minutes and allowed South Carolina to tie the game at 4.
Failing to clear the zone on too many occasions, the Gladiators gave up goals to Matt Scherer at 15:23 and Pierre-Luc O'Brien at 16:43.
“I think we were just pretty much gassed period,” Pyle said. “We had three or four chances to get it out at the blue line and we didn't. But bottom line, we got the two points. As hard as we worked, as short as we were, as beat up as they are, they earned it.”