DULUTH — South Carolina goalie Daren Machesney handed Gwinnett its first shutout loss of the season in the playoff opener and nearly helped the Stingrays steal the second game as well.
As the ECHL first-round series shifted to the Arena at Gwinnett Center, though, it wasn't Machesney that the Gladiators had to face.
Instead it was Rob Madore, who had finished the season with the Chicago Express, in net on Friday night after Machesney was recalled to Hershey (AHL) following the morning skate and South Carolina was left scrambling.
Madore became available as a free agent when Chicago folded on Friday and the Stingrays took advantage, getting the former University of Vermont goalie to Georgia just in time to start against the Gladiators.
If Madore didn't know his new teammates before the game, he certainly did before it ended. The Gladiators and Stingrays played an overtime marathon that went to a fourth extra period and the fill-in goalie was the hero.
Madore made 54 saves and South Carolina won 4-3 on a goal 4:19 into the fourth overtime by Zach Tarkir to take the lead in the best-of-five series.
It was the longest game in Gwinnett history and fell just short of the ECHL record.
The Gladiators out-shot South Carolina 15-5 in the first overtime, but Madore was up to the heavy workload. Then he made five saves in each of the next two overtime periods to run his total to 53 through 120 minutes of action the equivalent of two regulation games.
Madore, 23, signed with the Express after the completion of Vermont 's season and was 8-3-1 with a 2.41 goals-against average and .926 save percentage as Chicago just missed the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh native got the start against the Gladiators over backup Billy Saurer, who played with Gwinnett , Florida and Greenville as well as South Carolina this season.
A former teammate of Gwinnett's Justin Milo at Vermont , Madore had a 2.91 GAA and .902 save percentage in 127 games for the Catamounts over four seasons.
Machesney, a veteran of 112 AHL games, was 11-9-0 with South Carolina during the regular season, posting a 2.27 GAA and .921 save percentage. In the playoffs, the 25-year-old had been even better, recording a 1.51 GAA and .935 percent save mark.
Dallas Jackson beat Madore with a hard wrister from between the circles 6:39 into the game. But the goalie was solid through regulation and then at his best in overtime.
The Gladiators scored on a rebound by Andy Brandt and a deflection in front by Jacob Drewiske for a 3-2 lead at the end of the second period. Drewiske's tie-breaking goal came with 4:42 left in the period.
But South Carolina 's Dustin Stephenson tied the game 2:15 into the third period and Madore stoned the Gladiators the rest of the way in regulation. He made 11 saves in the third period and had 25 stops going into overtime.
Game 4 of the series is Sunday at 2:05 p.m. in the Arena at Gwinnett Center. If necessary, a Game 5 would be at 7:05 p.m. on Monday at the Arena.