Photo: Amanda Hertel Netminder Jeff Jakaitis makes 33 saves in his fourth shutout of season in the 3-0 victory over the Greenville Road Warriors on Friday night at the Arena at Gwinnett.
DULUTH -- Justin Milo scored two goals and the Gwinnett Gladiators handed Greenville just its second shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory Friday.
The Gladiators steadily built their lead with a goal in each period and were backed by a tremendous performance in net by Jeff Jakaitis.
The 4,286 on hand in the Arena at Gwinnett Center witnessed Jakaitis' fifth shutout of the season, tying a career record for the stalwart goaltender from Rochester, Minn. Jakaitis made 33 saves and Greenville was blanked for the first time since Nov. 19.
"He's just relentless in there," Milo said of Jakaitis. "It's fun to watch. I pay attention to what the goalies do because I try to learn as a shooter. He'll make a tough save and then there's a rebound. Instead of getting to his feet, he makes sure he gets over there, even on his butt or on his legs.
"He makes a lot of hard saves look real easy. A team like Greenville is dangerous and for him to make it look so easy is really impressive. We're happy to have him."
Battling for first place in the division and conference, the Gladiators picked up two more big points.
They now lead Greenville by four points with a rematch set for tonight at 7:05 p.m. South Carolina was tied with Gwinnett at the top of the conference, but lost in regulation Friday and left the Gladiators alone at the top.
"I liked the way the game ended up," head coach John Wroblewski said. "We weren't perfect in our system. We weren't perfect with our passing. But there was quite a bit of perfection in the battle level. In the hard areas of the ice, guys were perfect."
Gwinnett scored 1:08 into the game and despite some tense moments, held the lead through intermission.
Sprung on a mini-breakaway, Nikita Kashirsky ran out of real estate before he could get a shot off. But as he hit the end boards, Kashirsky adroitly dished the puck back into the slot. A collapsing Milo banged it home for his eighth goal of the season.
"Scoring that first goal is always helpful, especially a team like Greenville, which is so dangerous," Milo said. "You just never can let up against a team like that. I personally felt like, 'man, we got this.' We were playing good defense. We were weathering the storm when they were buzzing. I felt comfortable with today's game, but you can never take a shift off against them.
"But I thought we did what we needed to do. It feels good beating a team like them."
Greenville pushed back to start second and the Gladiators weren't controlling puck as well as they had in the first. But Gwinnett extended its lead with a booming shot on the power play from defenseman Dallas Jackson, and Jakaitis continued to sparkle between the pipes.
Jackson teed up a powerful slap shot from the blue line that bulged the back of the net at 13:20 of the second.
Jakaitis had another superb period, closing it on a big note with a crucial save in the final minute. Jeremy Gouchie was cherry picking and got in behind the defense in the neutral zone. He got a long pass and raced in alone on Jakaitis. The netminder denied the attempt and held the 2-0 lead through intermission.
Milo scored his second of the night and ninth of the season 5:33 into the third. Milo was deep in the corner and looking for Kashirsky on the far side of the net. Instead he put the puck in himself, banking it off goalie Jason Missiaen.
"Obviously Jakaitis was very solid back there," Wroblewski said. "He had quite a bit of help, though, too. I thought there was an extreme emphasis with shot blocking and stick detail. I thought the guys really rose up to that challenge."
Note: Fans who purchased Clark Howard night tickets to tonight's game can pick them up at a special will call window at the east club level entrance.