DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators exploded for a pair of goals 23 seconds apart in the middle of the third period and held on for a 5-3 victory over South Carolina on Thursday.
Evan Bloodoff scored unassisted and then assisted on defenseman Russ Sinkewich's goal to break open a tie game. The Stingrays answered once quickly, but couldn't draw even again after rallying from a 2-0 deficit earlier.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak in the first of back-to-back home games against South Carolina, which is on a six-game winless skid. The rematch tonight is set for a special 7:05 p.m. puck drop.
"We never quit," Bloodoff said. "We came off a couple big losses there last weekend in Reading. It wasn't our best hockey, but we took it positively and learned from it and tried to keep from making those mistakes tonight.
"We lost a couple guys to injuries so we knew some guys had to step up and that's what they did. Everyone played really hard. We were all pretty excited to be at home again and fresh off that (holiday) break."
Bloodoff burst out of the penalty box to score the go-ahead goal. He corralled a bouncing puck as he rolled down the wing, cut to the net and ripped a shot past former Gladiators goalie Jeff Jakaitis at 12:06.
At the end of that shift, Bloodoff found Sinkewich open near the top of the opposite circle. He dished it to the defenseman and Sinkewich put a wrister into the top corner for a 4-2 lead that had a crowd of 6,083 on its feet.
"That was all Sinker there," Bloodoff said. "He was moving his up the ice from our d-zone. He did all the work from there with a nice finish. All I did was give him the puck."
South Carolina's Tyler McNeely scored his second of the game less than a minute later, pulling the trigger on a 2-on-1 break and keeping the pressure on Gwinnett.
But an empty-netter for Scott Arnold, assisted by Bloodoff, sealed the win.
"We were fired up to play at home," Bloodoff said. "I think guys were just excited to get going again. But we've got a lot of tough games coming up so we're going to take it one at a time and hopefully we'll be successful if we do things right."
The Gladiators, and two-thirds of the fans in the stands, thought they grabbed a quick 1-0 lead. A shot from the point got through Jakaitis and sat enticingly in the crease behind him. But referee Tyler Puddifant was on the wrong side of the net to see it and blew the play dead before the puck was poked over the line just 1:47 into the game.
Gwinnett (20-10-1-0, 41 points) still got the first goal, though, when Doug Jones streaked untouched to the net and got a sweet feed from Andy Brandt in the corner. Jones lifted it over Jakaitis for an official 1-0 lead at 15:06.
Brandt, who reached 100 assists as a Gladiator on the play, doubled Gwinnett's lead at 6:14 of the second period. His initial wrister hit Jakaitis in the shoulder and looped up over him. Jakaitis reached back to try and swipe it out of mid-air and snagged the puck -- but not before it was judged to have crossed over into the net.
"We were patient all game and knew we were going to capitalize on our chances," Bloodoff said. "We just had to, when they tied it up there, not panic and stay with it."
The 2-1 margin evaporated in the second half of the period.
South Carolina (13-16-1-3, 30 points) got within one goal just over three minutes later, converting on a power play. McNeely charged to the post and buried a pass over the lunging goalie, Louis Domingue at 9:18.
The Stingrays tied it on an unfortunate deflection for Domingue, who had just a minute earlier made a fantastic point-blank glove save. Sinkewich had the inside position on South Carolina's Hunter Bishop as they neared the net. A shot from outside hit Sinkewich in the chest and ricochetted by a hamstrung Domingue at 18:02. Bishop was credited with the goal.
"We're not going to get all the bounces all the time," Bloodoff said. "So we do what we can."