DULUTH -- A heavyweight bout went the distance -- and the Gwinnett Gladiators absorbed the blows to beat Greenville 3-2 in a shootout before a loud 10,082 on Saturday in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The Gladiators even weathered the loss of their No. 1 goalie, Jeff Jakaitis, who was injured early in the second period.
Joe Palmer came in in relief and helped Gwinnett remain at the top of the conference standings.
Palmer made 16 saves and stopped three of four attempts in the shootout. Pat Galivan sealed the win with his shot over the far shoulder of Jason Missiaen, following up good tries by Brad Miller and Joey Haddad.
"It was a very entertaining game from a spectators standpoint," head coach John Wroblewski said. "I thought we did a lot of good things out there. Greenville executed quite a bit, as well. We were fortunate that our culture came through.
"I thought the guys really bound together and obviously Palms coming in cold like that, he had an enormous challenge on his hands and he rose up as well."
Jakaitis, one of the league's best goalies, is scheduled to have an MRI this morning and his status is unknown. Palmer was acquired just a week ago when it became clear Gwinnett's other goalie, Marc Cheverie, was going to be in the AHL for some time.
"It's going to be very difficult to replace Jeff Jakaitis, but the reason we went out and got Joe was for a situation like this," Wroblewski said. "He was a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks. He rose up to the challenge of winning a gold medal in the under-18 world championships.
"He's a guy we're looking now to lean on. He was going to be a guy who could come in and challenge Jeff for minutes. Now he's the guy and we're fully confident he's going to get the job done."
The game wasn't nearly as fast-paced as the night before -- a combination of shorter benches and the after-effects of Gwinnett's 3-0 win on Friday. It was no less intense though.
It was definitely a playoff atmosphere," Haddad said. "You play a team 15 times a year, emotions get really high. You've got to give them a lot of credit -- they played a great hockey game and really challenged us.
"I'm really proud of my team. Our goalie went down and Palmer came in cold and stood on his head. We found a way to get it done."
Greenville was without its top point producer, Justin Bowers, who was called up to AHL Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon. Bowers' 57 points were tied for second overall in the league at the time of his departure.
It didn't keep the Road Warriors from scoring first.
Greenville capitalized on its power play 7:36 into the game. Defenseman Wes Cunningham dropped down unchecked to the left-wing post and slammed home a rebound.
The Gladiators answered with a power-play goal of their own near the end of the period. Gwinnett's first two chances on the man advantage passed without real threat and it wasn't a set play that got the Gladiators even at 16:22.
Nikita Kashirsky swaggered through the neutral zone and let a deadly wrister go from the faceoff dot. Kashirsky, the team-leader in points, beat goalie Jason Missiaen over the far shoulder.
"Kash's goal, it was very important that we tied that game going into the end of the period," Wroblewski said. "The other unit set the table. They had some good pressure but didn't get the goal. Then Kash came in on the rush."
Gwinnett got many more chances on the power play in the second period -- Greenville was called for six penalties that resulted in advantages -- and did score on one late. But it was a goal the Gladiators had to have to tie it again and little consolation for the injustice of how Greenville's go-ahead goal came about.
The Road Warriors' Brandon Wong ran over Jakaitis 6:17 into the period, sending one of the ECHL's premier netminders hobbling off the ice. Wong landed on top of Jakaitis, who was slow to get to his feet and then didn't put weight on one leg as he was helped off the ice.
With Palmer now between the pipes, Gwinnett spent much of the next 4 -1/2 minutes on the power play in what was an extremely chippy game.
"Referee Jason Rollins did a tremendous job of controlling the game," Wroblewski said. "Because that is a very difficult team to referee. They're constantly embellishing calls. They're flopping around on the ice.
"That was about the fourth or fifth time that something like that happened, where they had gone into our crease uncontested and without being pushed or shoved. That last one, he falls right on Jeff without even trying to get out of the way."
Not long after an extended 5-on-3 for Gwinnett expired, Wong split the 'D' for a breakaway and put the puck between Palmer's legs at 11:26.
Greenville continued to make trips to the penalty box and the Gladiators finally cashed in at 16:54.
Defenseman Dallas Jackson got a feed in his wheelhouse and buried a big slap shot that tied it 2-2 just a few seconds after a 5-on-3 advantage expired.
"Anytime you get two (power-play goals), you have to be satisfied," Wroblewski said. "And they were timely. Jackson's goal, basically a 5-on-3, we needed to pop on that. It was probably about our 10th shot between the two 5-on-3s. I was happy we got more pucks down to the cage and challenged Missiaen."