DULUTH — Anemic on the power play throughout the regular season, it gave the Gwinnett Gladiators a big shot in the arm Sunday.
After losing their conference semifinal series opener to Cincinnati two days earlier, the Gladiators scored twice with the man advantage and beat the Cyclones 3-0 with a concerted 60-minute effort.
Rookie goalie Louis Domingue made 23 saves in the shutout and Gwinnett nearly doubled its shot output from Game 1 to 2.
“That's what comes along with having a good team and not just a good team skill-wise, but a solid mental team,” said rookie Domenic Monardo gave the Gladiators a 2-0 lead with his second goal of the series at 12:30 of the third period. “This is one of the most mentally strong teams. When everybody is on the same page like we are, it's hard for teams to play their game when we're playing ours.
“Definitely, we have the ability to dictate the flow of the game.”
Playing with a 1-0 lead and cycling on the power play, Monardo stepped to the middle of the faceoff circle and unloaded a heavy wrister. He couldn't see it get through goalie Michael Houser, but teammate Casey Pierro-Zabotel could and raised his arms.
The referee gave the signal and Monardo punched his fist into the air.
“It was kind of funny because we had a power-play earlier in the game and it came to me on the sidewall,” Monardo said. “I didn't shoot. I tried to give it have to (Ryan Donald) on the point and their guy picked it off.
“Donnie looked at me and goes, 'I think maybe next time you keep it and shoot it yourself.' He was kind of right. I give him all the credit on that. (Evan) Bloodoff made a nice screen in front and I kind of got lucky. That's playoff hockey.”
The Gladiators take a tie series to Cincinnati now, left to play out the rest of the best-of-seven clash on the road because the Arena at Gwinnett Center was unavailable.
Monardo said after losing the opener that the team wasn't worried. Game 2 bore that statement out.
“When you're confident in your team and everybody is on the same page, losing one game in the playoffs is going to happen,” Monardo said. “You lose one game, there's nothing you can do about it. You can't cry over it and whine and compound the negative. We stayed positive and I think it helped us out tonight.”
The Gladiators scored first for the second straight game, converting again on an outside shot on the power play.
Without a whole lot of controlled possession, for either side, Gwinnett finally started getting some sustained pressure on Houser.
A roughing call to David MacDonald near the end of a chippy first period gave the Gladiators a man advantage. Doug Jones lofted a shot from the boards and the puck got behind Houser. Seeing it sitting there in the blue crease, Justin Bowers jumped to get a stick on it.
The movement of Houser falling backward pushed the puck over the line and Gwinnett celebrated a 1-0 lead at 17:58 of the first.
The Gladiators made that stand up through the second period by keeping the pressure on and the hitting hard. Cincinnati had a few chances in the late going, but didn't get a bounce to go its way. Gwinnett killed off two power plays with aplomb and was outshooting the Cyclones 21-12 after 40 minutes.
“You can have more shots and lose a game,” Monardo said. “But I think it's a good indicator if your team is doing well. As a forward, we're looking to get shots from wherever we can, make the goalie make saves.”
Unwilling to let another lapse cost them as it did in the first six minutes of the third period in Game 1, the Gladiators played to the final horn.
Even on the penalty kill in the final two minutes, down two men because Cincinnati pulled Houser, Gwinnett held firm. Donald closed the door with an empty-netter at 19:18.
“We feel like if we play our game, we're going to have the puck most of the time and we're going to be able to shut them down,” Monardo said. “Lou in net has just been phenomenal and our defense is playing great.”