READING, Pa. -- Christian Ouellet and Andy Brandt scored just 63 seconds apart in the second period, but it wasn't enough as the Gladiators fell 4-2 to the Reading Royals on Friday night at the Sovereign Center.
The Royals (20-7-0-1) won their seventh game in a row and have prevailed in 19 of their last 21 to take over sole possession of first place in the East. The Gladiators (19-9-1-0) fell to second overall in the conference but remain first in the South Division.
Capitals prospect and former Stingray goalie Philipp Grubauer made 26 saves for his league-leading 16th win of the season, while Mike Lee stopped 20 shots and dropped his fifth straight start for Gwinnett.
The Gladiators controlled most of the opening period, pelting Grubauer with 14 shots. The Royals took over late however, and thanks to Ian O'Connor took a 2-0 lead into the break. O'Connor's eighth of the season at 16:32 opened the scoring, and his ninth goal just 2:34 later made it 2-0.
Gwinnett responded early in the second period to draw even. Christian Ouellet picked up a loose puck from in close and sniped a shot past Grubauer to cut the deficit to one at the 3:03 mark. Corey Fienhage had the helper, and the Gladiators weren't finished.
Only 63 seconds later, Andy Brandt slapped a rebound through the legs of Grubauer from the top of the crease to tie the game with Dallas Jackson and Tyler Murovich setting him up.
Reading regained the lead through two periods thanks to a power play goal by Kirk MacDonald, as he blasted a one timer past Lee at 10:53 to put the Royals up 3-2.
Gwinnett pressured in the third, but could not solve Grubauer nor stay out of the penalty box, and the Royals added an empty-netter late courtesy of Brett Flemming to ice it.
Both teams face off again on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. from the Sovereign Center. The Gladiators return home on Dec. 27 and 28 as they host the South Carolina Stingrays at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.