Gwinnett Gladiators' netminder Marc Cheverie makes one of his 31 saves in Gwinnett's 4-3 shootout victory over Greenville on Sunday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH — Marc Cheverie denied all comers in the shootout and the Gwinnett Gladiators stayed ahead of Greenville for first place in a back-and-forth battle between top teams Sunday.
The Gladiators beat Greenville 4-3 in front of 4,434 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center, a thriller than went beyond regulation and into the shootout. Nikita Kashirsky and Justin Milo scored on their attempts. Cheverie, just returned from the AHL, stonewalled the Warriors on their four chances after 65 minutes wasn't enough to decide the game.
“It was really nice for (Cheverie) to get into the spotlight there in the shootout,” head coach John Wroblewski said. “His game was tremendous. He didn't deserve to have three goals against. He was calm back there. He was efficient. He also made a lot of difficult saves look pretty easy out there.
“He was our best player tonight and usually if that happens, you're going to win the hockey game.”
Gwinnett (36-17-7-4) remains the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference and South Division. The Gladiators are two points ahead of Greenville (38-21-2-2) with just eight games left in the regular season.
“It was very loose in some spots and I thought both teams played as hard as they possibly could,” Wroblewski said. “I thought we were very fortunate to come out with the victory.”
The Gladiators capitalized on their first power play chance for a 1-0 lead 5:54 into the game. A shot from the blue line hit one of the Warriors in the slot and ricochetted over to Jonathan Parker. Pat Galivan was screening goalie Nic Riopel and leaped out of the way as Parker fired it into the back of the net.
But Greenville tied it on its own power play chance at 10:15 and took a 2-1 lead on a breakaway goal by Brett Robinson at 11:57.
Gwinnett evened the score again on the power play after Jyri Niemi got a five-minute major for boarding. Niemi crunched Galivan against the boards in the corner and the Gladiators leading goal scorer was slow to get up. Working with the subsequent man advantage, captain Paul Flache raced to keep the puck in at the blue line and then swept down low to take a point-blank shot on net. Jordan Foreman jammed the rebound under Riopel 1:44 into the second period.
The Gladiators didn't convert again on the major to Niemi, but grabbed their first lead just after the penalty expired.
Tyler Kindle, who assisted on Gwinnett's first goal, carried the puck in deep and banked a shot off Greenville's Lee Baldwin who was busy cross-checking Galivan in the crease.
The lead didn't last long.
Greenville tied it 3-3 at 8:06 and the two teams spent the rest of the period alternating rushes end-to-end. The score remained the same, though, heading into the final intermission.
“It was not really the kind of game we set out to play,” Wroblewski said. “But with our defense corps being limited with the numbers, guys getting many more minutes than they've been used to playing, that sort of thing is going to happen.
“At times, our tracking wasn't where it needed to be. We weren't exceptional in managing the puck, either. So there's some stuff we need to address and get better at.”
The Gladiators had a go-ahead goal waived off at 8:51 of the third. Will Colbert took a shot from the point that beat Riopel, but referee Curtis Marouelli waived it off for “encroachment during the faceoff.” Marouelli is the same ref who earlier this season allowed a goal to be scored in South Carolina when the net was not just off it's moorings, but sideways.
Gwinnett kept pushing though, with an especially impressive performance from Flache down the stretch, and prevailed in the shootout.
“With only two right-handed defensemen, I thought (assistant coach Rick Emmett) did a tremendous job managing those guys,” Wroblewski said. “The line changes were short and we got the matchups we wanted.”