DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators beat the best team in their conference and did it with an anemic power play come to life.
The Gladiators scored three goals, including two early ones, with the man advantage to beat Elmira 4-3 in front of a sparse crowd Thursday in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Justin Milo and Tyler Murovich sparked Gwinnett's power play, which ranked last in the ECHL heading into the game, with seven assists between them.
The win, hard-fought to the end, left the Gladiators (21-12-7-3, 52 points) just one point behind Elmira (26-13-1-0) in the East standings. Gwinnett remained tied for first in the South Division after Greenville beat Florida in a shootout and plays Elmira again Saturday night at home.
"We absolutely had our hands full with them, but I also thought that they probably weren't very happy with their game," Gladiators head coach John Wroblewski said of the Jackals. "I think there were a couple instances where there was a lot of lull in the game and they're a team that likes to play an up-tempo style. So I expect a much more up-tempo game on Saturday. They're going to be pushing the pace significantly."
Gwinnett scored on its first two power-play chances -- just 2:38 apart -- to grab a 2-0 lead early in the first period.
Milo sent a centering pass to Bryan Brutlag from behind the net and Brutlag finished it spectacularly. Using a lightning-fast forehand to backhand move as he was sliding across the crease, Brutlag roofed the puck at 4:56.
"Brutlag made a great move and scoring that early goal jump-started the team," Milo said. "Luckily we got another power play right away and I thought we were clicking really well."
Elmira's Kevin Harvey, who was called for the elbow that set up the first goal, went back to the box as soon as it was scored. The Gladiators converted on that one, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, 30 seconds later.
Murovich was down in the corner and found Milo in the near faceoff circle. Milo fired on net and Nikita Kashirsky, on the far post, deflected it out of mid-air for his eighth goal of the season at 7:34.
"We knew that Elmira was going to be coming out hard and we were short guys," Milo said. "So we were thinking we really just had to play smart. The ref called a couple penalties on them early and we just changed up the power play lines a little bit.
"Murovich, Brutlag and I were down low to try to win more battles instead of play around the perimeter. We won a couple battles down low and Murovich outmuscled some guys on their team."
Elmira tied it 2-2, first cashing on a power-play of its own at 11:35 of the first and then just 2:42 into the second with a excellent tip-in by Louie Caporusso.
The Gladiators responded and restored their lead, again on the power play.
More outstanding passing from Murovich and Milo set up Dallas Jackson for his third goal of the year.
Milo called for the puck at the post. Murovich dished it from the halfwall and Milo sent it across the goal mouth. Jackson pounced on it, hammering the shot past goalie Timo Pielmeier at 9:48.
Gwinnett extended its lead to 4-2 with just 29 seconds left in the second period.
Jackson unloaded a shot from the point that was tipped in by Pat Galivan at the side of the crease.
The Jackals got within one goal on a shot by 17-year NHL veteran Craig Rivet with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
But goalie Jeff Jakaitis made one more sparkling save, reaching behind himself, to preserve the win over a determined Elmira team.
"Our division is so tough that every game we're in is hard-fought," Milo said. So we're not expecting teams to roll over. Ever. Which is a good habit to be in. They put the pressure on us and we did a good job of weathering the storm.
"It's never easy at the end of the game. Teams are pouring it on as hard as they can. Jakaitis has been great all year and reached back on that shot and saved our butts."