DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators broke open a close game with basement-dwelling Trenton late in the second period and beat the Titans 4-1 on Sunday.
Cody Brookwell and Chris Clackson scored just 1:21 apart in the last five minutes of the second and the Gladiators picked up their third straight win in front of an enthusiastic 4,589 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Recently acquired goalie Joe Palmer made 34 saves in his debut, including several clutch moves on the penalty kill when the game was still close, and Pat Galivan had a pair of goals for the Gladiators.
“Joe's statistics speak for themselves,” head coach John Wroblewski said. “He came to us (in a trade from Reading) with a .916 save percentage. There were a couple other goalies available and the biggest reason we went after Joe is he's a character guy. He's an unbelievable professional and he's the exact type of person we want around here.
“You combine that with his size, athleticism, and the want and need to stop the puck. That's a great combination to have.”
Gwinnett (23-12-7-3, 56 points) defeated the former Eastern Conference leading Elmira Jackals twice in three days and finished out the weekend with a win over a struggling Titans team. The Gladiators claimed sole possession of first place in the division and the conference with Greenville idle.
In what could have been a trap game — playing the East's worst team after beating its best twice — Gwinnett led the whole way Sunday.
“I give Trenton a lot of credit with the way they played that game,” Wroblewski said. “They were very diligent in a lot areas. We were the beneficiaries of some good habits in areas and then timely scoring. I wouldn't say it was the perfect game, but everybody did what they needed to do at the right time to make the team go tonight.”
Galivan got things going just 2:29 into the game. He was among a group whacking away at a pin-balling puck during a scrum in front of Trenton goalie Brad Phillips.
Nikita Kashirsky, the team's leading point-getter, picked up an assist on that goal and then did the hard work down low to set up Galivan for his second of the game.
Kashirsky muscled his way to the bottom of the right-wing faceoff circle and snapped a centering feed to Galivan in the slot. Galivan drilled the shot for his team-best 18th goal of the season at 11:09 of the first period. It was also Galivan's 50th as a Gladiator.
Trenton got within 2-1 on a short-handed goal by former Gladiator Dustin Cameron 1:10 into the second, but Gwinnett answered late in the period.
Brookwell capped a spectacular passing series with an equally impressive finish at 16:27.
Snapping passes back and forth on the breakout, Andy Brandt left a drop pass for Joey Haddad as they crossed the Trenton blue line. Haddad centered it from the wing to a charging Brookwell. The big defenseman got his stick extended with a Titan draped over him and banged the puck past Phillips.
Chris Clackson, in his first game back after a stint with AHL Houston, pushed the lead to 4-1 at 17:48. The puck caromed into the high slot where Tyler Murovich pounced on it. Clackson was part of the mass of traffic in front of Phillips and tipped Murovich's wrister home.