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Gladiators pound rival Rays in playoff opener

Photo: Amanda Hertel  Gladiators' Scott Arnold celebrates the second goal of the game on Stingrays' netminder Ryan Zapolski on Friday.

Photo: Amanda Hertel Gladiators' Scott Arnold celebrates the second goal of the game on Stingrays' netminder Ryan Zapolski on Friday.

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Photo Amanda Hertel Gwinnett's Domenic Monardo beats South Carolina's Peter Boyd (26), Jake Areshenko (5), and Eric Alexander (16) on Friday.

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Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett's Louis Domingue stops South Carolina's Chris Langkow to earn his first playoff shutout on Friday.

DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators broke open a tight game with two quick goals late in the second period and grabbed a 1-0 series lead over South Carolina on Friday night.

Tyler Murovich scored twice and the Gladiators beat their division rival 5-0 in a dominating opening effort at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

Goaltender Louis Domingue outdueled Ryan Zapolski, showered with awards by the ECHL this week. Domingue made 24 saves in the shutout and was far better than the league's recently anointed MVP, rookie and goalie of the year.

"As long as we have one more than them, we're fine," Murovich said. "But I'm not surprised (at the score) because when we got to playing our game, playing on the grind and playing downhill, everyone bought in and was doing it well. That shows what we're capable of."

The teams go right back at it tonight for Game 2 of the best-of-seven series. Puck drop is 7:05 p.m at the arena.

"They're certainly not going to roll over," Murovich said. "Their identity is hard work. We definitely expect that tomorrow.

"That's the thing, when you have a game like this, you've got to have a short memory and be ready to bounce back."

The Gladiators scored the only goal in a surprisingly free-wheeling first period, just a hint of the offense to come.

Defenseman Tristin Llewellyn was at the point, looking for a lane. He waited and, still seeing nothing open toward the net, smartly fired it off the end boards several feet from the net. Joey Haddad was right there to grab the ricochet and ripped it into the far top corner at 10:47.

Neither team opted for a conservative approach.

"We definitely didn't want to sit back," Murovich said. "Not with the talent we have in this room and the speed. Even if we have the lead, we don't want to sit back and give them a chance to get back in it. We always want to be pushing the pace and using our legs."

South Carolina's Chris Langkow had a chance to even the score on a giveaway by the Gladiators' net, but couldn't sling the puck around Domingue with less than two minutes left in the period.

A minute later, Zapolski stoned Murovich on a point-blank try and the Stingrays finished the period with a strong push that Domingue repelled.

The rookie Phoenix prospect held firm through the second period and Gwinnett scored two goals in a span of 1:35 to push its lead to 3-0.

Scott Arnold banged a rebound under Zapolski at 13:39 and then salvaged a bit of a broken play in the slot for the next goal at 15:14. Evan Bloodoff centered a pass to a spinning Arnold who corralled the puck and slung a backhanded shot toward the net. It went wide of the post, but Murovich was there to tuck it home.

"One thing we did well (in the second) that we weren't too proud about in the first was just getting the puck down below the goal line, getting on the grind and getting to those loose pucks," Murovich said. "My goal and Arnie's there, it was a case of getting to the front."

South Carolina had several chances in the waning minutes of the second that Domingue again dismissed.

A chant of "Louis, Louis" rose up from the crowd following a series of sterling saves and the Gladiators maintained their momentum through intermission.

"He played great," Murovich said. "A game like that, we were playing really well early, but it was almost surprising to see it was only 1-0. It was nice for him to make some big-time saves and give us a chance to play with that lead and then just build on top of it.

"He lets a few of those in and it could be a different game for sure."

Murovich scored his second goal of the game just 3:23 into the third to expand on Gwinnett's already significant advantage. Murovich worked out of the corner and roofed a backhander as he cruised toward the slot.

Capping the goal bonanza was a pretty rebound hammered up under the crossbar by Dominic Monardo with 5:07 left in regulation. It was the first pro goal for Monardo, who joined the team on March 21 after completing his senior season at Lake Superior State.

He gave a big fist pump to celebrate as the Gladiators put the final nail in the coffin.