Photo: Amanda Hertel Gladiators' Tyler Murovich celebrates the game-winning goal as the Gladiators defeat their division rival Florida Everblades 4-3 on Friday night at the Arena at Gwinnett.
DULUTH -- Gwinnett Gladiators head coach John Wroblewski has talked many times this season, particularly recently, about how each game has a playoff feel.
Friday night against the Florida Everblades was no different.
The teams traded goals for two periods before Tyler Murovich gave Gwinnett the lead for good five minutes into the third.
The Gladiators won 4-3, but it was by no means easy and they had to spend the final, tense minute on the penalty kill. Florida made a push, pulling goalie Pat Nagle for a two-man advantage, but Gwinnett held on in front of 4,628 faithful fans.
The Gladiators also extended their division lead over the Everblades by a small margin.
"Each play is extremely pivotal," Wroblewski said. "I think it's great for our guys, for their development. And I think it's excellent for (assistant coach) Rick (Emmett) and myself to be in these situations where we know how important it is who we put on the ice when.
"The guys appreciate how important it is to have pucks in the right areas. This is all part of the learning curve."
The game was tied three times, including with 19.4 seconds left in the second period on a goal by the Everblades.
But Murovich got a sweet feed from Pat Galivan to score the game-winner.
"I was very impressed with (Galivan's) effort on that goal," Wroblewski said. "But guys like Nikita Kashirsky and Cody Brookwell made that happen."
Kashirsky, at the end of his shift, won the faceoff clean in Gwinnett's zone and Brookwell found Galivan up ice.
"I'm not sure how Gali had the energy," Wroblewski said. "I was expecting him to just pitch it out into neutral ice and get a line change. He dug in, took the wide ice and pulled up.
"Murv wasted zero time coming off the bench."
Murovich was open on the far post and Galivan's cross-ice feed was on the money. Murovich banged it home in an instant, providing the finishing touch on a team effort.
"We got a really good line change," Murovich said. "I came in a little late and maybe they forgot about me. But Gali had eyes in the back of his head."
The Gladiators' first, third and fourth goals were scored in close, but Wroblewski thought they could have been better still around the net.
"We missed a number of empty-net opportunities and also had our sticks lifted in those areas," Wroblewski said. "It does have to be taken with a grain of salt though. The pucks were there a lot. We got it to that area a lot. So I was happy with that."
A shot and a tip staked the Gladiators to a 1-0 lead just 5:09 into the game.
Dallas Jackson collected a puck off the wall halfway into the Everblades' zone and fired a shot on net. Kashirsky was in front and tipped it past a handcuffed Nagle.
Florida tied it on the power play at 18:01 and grabbed its first lead just 2:39 into the second. Mathieu Roy pulled the trigger on a laser from the top of the circle that beat Jeff Jakaitis over the shoulder at 2:39.
Gladiators captain Paul Flache returned the favor on a bomb from basically the same spot three minutes later. Flache got a drop pass from Bryan Brutlag and buried a blast that tied the game 2-2 at 5:46.
Gwinnett continued to apply pressure and cashed in at 14:59.
Joey Haddad, just returned from a stint in the AHL, roofed a backhanded shot from a seemingly impossible angle. Haddad corralled a bouncing puck and restored the Gladiators lead when he was nearly on top of Nagle.
"You do the things like blocking shots and cycling and getting pucks in that area for the team," Wroblewski said. "The hard play out of the corners, that's for the team.
"But finishing, being able to put the puck underneath the bar when it's laying there and it's just you and the goalie, that's for you. That's the reward you should take personally."
The effort in Florida's zone didn't stop or slow. But after spending the majority of the period attacking the Everblades, Gwinnett still went into the third tied 3-3.
Cedric Lalonde-McNicholl beat Jakaitis with a shot from just inside the blue line with 19.4 seconds left in the period.
"The third goal for them, that was something that was a major-league breakdown," Wroblewski said. "We talked about that (at intermission). But the underlying theme was that we just need to be harder at the cage.
"When you get down to the greasy areas of the net-front, that's where the game is ultimately won and lost. That was an area we had to get better in and it was awesome to see Murv slam that thing in after we had just talked about it."