DULUTH — Tim Miller was a magician and scored twice from nearly impossible angles to lead the Gwinnett Gladiators to a 4-3 victory over league-leading Greenville on Friday night.
Gwinnett also got a pair of goals from Michael Forney — and needed them both. After watching a 3-1 lead slip away in the third period, Miller set up Forney for the game-winning goal with just over six minutes left in regulation.
“It was a great game,” Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said. “All sorts of things. Ups and downs. Could we handle the test of losing the two-goal lead in the third period? Everybody battled to come back with a great goal.
“Everybody stepped it up. I know how tired they are because I know how tough this schedule’s been. I keep asking more of them and they’ve always battled. I know it’s been a struggle at times, but they’ve battled hard.”
Pat Galivan, who assisted on three goals and played a gritty two-way game, sparked the breakout play and found Miller charging through the left face-off circle on the odd-man rush.
“It all started in the ‘D’ zone,” Miller said. “We knew their center was going to try to walk the puck and our ‘D’ were there. Gali was ready and jumped on the faceoff to get the 3-on-2. Gali did a great job sucking that guy to him, passed it to me and I saw Forney’s stick out there.”
Miller slid a perfect cross-crease pass to Forney as the Atlanta Thrashers’ prospect got to the far post. Forney made no mistake and got a big hug from Miller behind the Greenville net.
“That was a great celebration, too,” Miller said. “We jumped into each other’s arms behind the net.”
And for good reason.
The goal, Forney’s eighth of the season, gave the Gladiators a second straight win over Greenville and just their fourth win in the last 18 games.
“That’s the difference between us right now and us four or five games ago — we’re working hard to try to get the breaks instead of hoping we get the breaks,” Miller said. “We didn’t want to give up that lead at all, but we battled back and showed our determination.”
Miller got things started just 2:46 into the game, leaning into a snap shot from the left corner of Greenville’s zone. He was parallel with the goal line and snuck the puck between goalie Nic Riopel and the near post.
The Gladiators extended the lead with a 2-on-1 breakaway at 14:25 of the first. With time winding down in a period full of end-to-end rushes, Aaron Bendickson stepped in front of a Greenville pass at Gwinnett’s blue line and hit the gas to create an odd-man rush with Forney on his right wing. Bendickson dished the puck and Forney banged it home for a 2-0 lead.
The Gladiators kept the pressure on in the opening minutes of the second period, but Connor Shields got loose on a breakaway of his own and cut the gap to 2-1 at 3:53.
But Miller restored the two-goal lead with an incredible backhanded shot at 16:52. Miller came down the right wing and cut hard to the net. His shot found the miniscule space between a crouched Riopel’s head and the cross bar.
“I just tell them, any time you’re shooting the puck to the net, it’s OK,” Pyle said. “That’s what we’ve started to do lately is put pucks to the net. And they’re going in.”
But that 3-1 margin quickly slipped away in the third.
Greenville got a golden chance to end the second period when alternate captain Paul Flache was given a double minor for high sticking. The Road Warriors had nearly all of the four-minute power play to work with at the third began and Chris Chappell slipped a shot under Carrozzi with 1:37 left in the penalty.
Chappell’s goal 2:14 into the period was quickly followed by Shields’ second of the night and tied the game 3-3. Shields rolled down the left wing, drove to the net and tucked the puck around Carrozzi at 3:45.
“Their second goal we broke down on the PK,” Pyle said. “We let them walk right in. The third one, we got beat, but that was more we’re so tired right now that’s going to happen.
“But bottom line, we did what we had to do. Yeah, we make some mistakes, but we’re working as hard as we can.”