Photo: Amanda Hertel Gladiators Tyler Murovich, Chris Clackson defeat netminder Mike Brodeur and the Orlando Solar Bears on Thursday night.
DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators broke open a tight, tie game early in the third period and beat Orlando 4-1 on Thursday to take over sole possession of first place in the South Division.
Young Phoenix prospect Evan Bloodoff and Chris Clackson scored 3:31 apart and Doug Jones put the exclamation point on a productive third period for Gwinnett. The Gladiators were coming off a northern road swing in which they won four of five games and kept that momentum going back home in front of a partisan, if sparse, crowd at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
"It was a tough weekend for us, lots of travel, lots of long games," Bloodoff said. "It was nice to get some rest this week and get back to it. We were all pretty excited to be back home after the long trip."
The Gladiators (5-3-1-0, 11 points) play Elmira at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and South Carolina at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at the arena.
"This is going to be a good weekend for us," Bloodoff said. "These are some big games that we've got coming up. We've got to use the home-ice advantage."
Defenseman Kyle Lawson teed up a one-timer from the blue line that beat goalie Mike Brodeur over the blocker-side shoulder 2:23 into the game for a 1-0 Gwinnett lead. Tyler Murovich won the faceoff in Orlando's end and slid it to the middle. Rylan Galiardi dished it from there to Lawson up top.
But the Solar Bears (4-2-1-1, 10 points) had a quick answer, tying it on a 2-on-1 just over a minute later. Scott Tanski sent a cross-ice feed to Nick Peterson just as they entered the Gladiators' zone. Peterson drilled the top corner to tie the game at 3:25.
The 1-1 deadlock lasted through the rest of the first and second periods -- despite four power plays for Gwinnett -- until Bloodoff's go-ahead goal 2:51 into the third.
Bloodoff spun out of the corner, swept through the faceoff circle and rifled a shot into the back of the net.
Orlando pushed back again, looking for another equalizer, but goalie Mike Lee made a timely diving save to stymie the Solar Bears.
"Especially after a goal, we can't let off on the pressure," Bloodoff said. "We tried to just stay even-keeled and doing what made us successful offensively."
Lee's save, one of 27 in the game, allowed Clackson to drive the knife a little deeper with a goal at 6:22. Clackson banged a rebound under the sprawling Brodeur for a 3-1 lead.
"We had a lot of good chances early on, but their goalie played really well in the first couple of periods," said Bloodoff, who was assigned to the team from AHL Portland last week. "We just stayed patient, stuck to our game plan and our hard work started paying off at the end."
Bloodoff assisted on Jones' capper at 12:35 of the third, his sixth point in five games with the Gladiators.