Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett defenseman Sacha Guimond battles with Cincinnati's XXXXX during Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Friday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH -- After grinding out two tight and testy periods, the Gwinnett Gladiators allowed Cincinnati to get into the run-and-gun style that has served it so well this season.
The Cyclones scored three goals in the first 6:36 of the third period, erasing two Gwinnett leads and claiming a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of their conference semifinal series Friday.
"It's the little things," said forward Domenic Monardo, who gave the Gladiators a 2-1 lead early in the third. "Hockey is a 60-minute game. It doesn't matter how well you play 59 of the minutes, you can still lose the game.
"They're a good team. They've got skilled players. We've got to be mentally focused and sharp all game, all 60 minutes. I think it's evident in that game, if we're not exactly where we should be, they've got guys that can do some things. But no one's worried. We know we're a good team and we know what we can do."
The Gladiators only get these first two games at home because the Arena at Gwinnett Center is booked, so the pressure is on. Game 2 is Sunday at 6:05 p.m. before both teams head to Cincinnati for the rest of the seven-game series.
Expect the intensity to be high, especially after the two teams spent several minutes spewing vitriol at each other after the final horn Friday.
Cincinnati assistant coach Matt Macdonald was among those given a misconduct at the end. Gwinnett captain Andy Brandt and Sacha Guimond were penalized, as were Cincinnati's David Pacan and Garrett Wilson.
"Definitely fans can expect more of the same," Monardo said. "I think that's part of their gameplan. They think they can intimidate us or, I don't know really what they're thinking. Beat us verbally? I don't know.
"I mean, they got their bounces tonight, but we're not going to be playing that game. They can do what they want. We're going to stick with our gameplan and see what happens."
The probing began early with both teams trying to find weakness. None of the parries found the back of the net in a penalty-stunted first period -- though there were some premium chances.
Cincinnati failed to convert on a terrible giveaway five feet from the net with the Gladiators on the power play in the first five minutes. The Cyclones also had Gwinnett pinned in its own end for more than a full minute, pounding away, but goalie Louis Domingue turned aside a myriad of shots.
The Gladiators had their own opportunities, too.
A crisp 3-on-1 passing play midway through went for naught and Casey Pierro-Zabotel had a glorious opening in the final minutes and his wrister clanged off the crossbar.
"We've got skilled players and hard-working guys that can obviously take control of the puck and really dictate the game," Monardo said.
The penalties kept coming in the second and Gwinnett cashed in on the power play for a 1-0 lead.
Dallas Jackson, recently returned from a long stint in the AHL, whipped a heavy wrister from the blue line that took a fortuitous turn. The puck hit a Cyclone in the high slot and changed direction on goalie Michael Houser, ringing around the inside of the net behind him just 2:32 into the period.
The Gladiators got stronger as the minutes ticked away, closing with a furious push in a more determined effort to keep Cincinnati on its heels.
"I expect more of the first two periods the rest of the year," Monardo said. "We just need to capitalize on our chances and take away anything we gave them tonight."
The Cyclones punched back 37 seconds into the third with a rising shot from the faceoff circle by Trevor Lewis.
But Monardo matched it -- and quickly.
The rookie rolled down the wing and fired a laser over the far shoulder of Houser at 1:01 to restore Gwinnett's lead.
Cincinnati pushed through again, breaking out for a pair of goals just over two minutes apart as the offensive blitzkrieg continued.
An unguarded Justin Vaive got a pass from behind the net and buried the point-blank shot at 4:25 to tie it.
Seconds later, another goal was immediately waived off for goaltender interference, but the Cyclones surged quickly into the zone again to wrest the lead from Gwinnett. Pacan slid a backhanded shot under a challenging Domingue for a 3-2 advantage at 6:36.
"We know what we did and it's completely fixable," Monardo said. "It's just an attitude thing.
"I thought we worked hard and guys were skating well. We've just got to keep doing those things. Like I said before, we're not worried."