Cincinnati goalie Chet Pickard makes a save against Gwinnett Gladiators' Nikita Kashirsky (17) in the Cyclones 6-3 win Friday night at the Arena at Gwinnett.
DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators had their seven-game winning streak snapped in a 6-3 loss to the desperate Cincinnati Cyclones on Friday.
The Gladiators remain at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, but couldn’t match Cincinnati’s urgency in front of a vociferous 6,054 in the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The Cyclones, led by a hat trick from Mathieu Aubin, are in the eighth and final playoff spot with just two weeks left in the season. They were beaten 3-1 Wednesday by the Gladiators and can ill afford to let many more points slip away.
“They obviously were the hungrier team,” Gwinnett head coach John Wroblewski said. “It was expected, but at the same time, we have proven able to rise up to challenges. In that case, it was disgruntling from our aspect. Because we failed at a lot of things that were addressed and a lot of things we’ve preached about since Day 1.”
Gwinnett (37-18-7-4, 85 points) could have been the first team in the East to clinch a postseason berth. Instead, the Gladiators look to do that in the first of three straight games against division rival Greenville. The Road Warriors, just two points back in the race for first place, are in town tonight for Gwinnett’s regular-season home finale.
“Definitely,” Wroblewski said of the benefits of the quick turnaround. “That’s obviously a very good hockey team there. They’re one of the most consistent in the league. Not only with their performance, but with their work ethic and they have surely given us very good hockey games.”
They’ll have to do it without alternate captain Andy Brandt, who was called up to AHL Abbottsford before Friday’s game.
“He’s one of our energy players and he’s very consistent,” Wroblewski said. “Which is one of the reasons the American League came calling. Any time you lose a player like that, consistent and energetic, you’re going to miss him.”
As it did two days earlier, Cincinnati (30-24-2-7, 69 points) had all the jump to start the game — not surprising for a team on the verge of missing the playoffs.
The Cyclones were outshooting Gwinnett 6-0 less than six minutes in and then beat goalie Ryan Zapolski on consecutive shots to grab a 2-0 lead. For the second game in a row, Jonathan Hazen got Cincinnati on the board first. This time, the Cyclones added another before the Gladiators found a way to answer.
Gwinnett climbed within one on a goal by Tyler Murovich at 13:46. Murovich got a drop pass from Bryan Brutlag and flung a wrister on net from the outside edge of the faceoff circle. It foiled goalie Chet Pickard, who lifted both arms in supplication.
But a ticky-tack call on defenseman Cody Brookwell by referee Curtis Marouelli gave Cincinnati its first power play and the Cyclones didn’t waste the opportunity.
Anthony Luciani was wide open on the far post for an easy putback on the rebound at 18:39 and gave Cincy a 3-1 heading into intermission.
The Cyclones made it 4-1 at 7:29 of the third before the Gladiators found their usual verve.
“It’s never too late,” Wroblewski said. “These guys have proven time and again that a two-goal lead is nothing, that a three-goal lead is nothing. The problem is, in those games we’ve come back, those have been situational happenings.
“It hasn’t been a lack of detail or failure to execute on the system. Tonight we had that.”
A goal waived off by Marouelli drew the ire of the normally cool and collected Wroblewski, who was vibrating with emotion when the ref went to the bench to explain the call. That lit a spark under Gwinnett, which scored for real less than a minute later.
Defenseman Dallas Jackson got a perfect feed from Justin Milo. Jackson let go on a quick, hard shot that beat Pickard at 16:40.
The Gladiators kept the pressure on for the rest of the period, led by a fired-up Murovich who was a one-man wrecking crew in the final minute.
But Cincinnati scored just after a power play expired 1:09 into the third and Jacob Drewiske’s first professional goal wasn’t enough to resuscitate Gwinnett. Drewiske’s turnaround shot from the high slot cut the deficit to 5-3 at 9:04.
“There’s a lot of nights you can bring it and end up with less goals than the other team,” Wroblewski said. “But that’s something you can look yourself in the mirror afterwards and have it justified. Tonight we had way too many instances where we gave into things that we could have controlled.”