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Gladiators can't keep pace with powerful 'Rays

DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators managed just 22 shots on goal against one of the best goalies in the league and, perhaps not surprisingly, lost 4-2 to South Carolina on Friday in Duluth.

Former Gladiator netminder Jeff Jakaitis had to make a paltry number of saves — including just four in the second period — en route to his 14th victory of the season. The only player to beat him was Evan Bloodoff, who had two goals. Bloodoff’s second, backhanded in on the rebound, came in the dying minutes with the game already decided.

“We talk about getting shots, getting some traffic,” head coach Rick Emmett said. “I think the first goal (a deflection by Bloodoff), you saw was indicative of that.

“Our D-zone detail tonight ate us up. A lot of missed assignments. Stuff we went over all week, went over in video, that didn’t get done tonight.”

The teams, occupying opposite ends of the ECHL standings, head to the North Charleston Coliseum for the second half of a home-and-home set today at 7:05 p.m. It’s the last game before a short holiday break for Gwinnett.

“We have to stick to the plan,” said Emmett, whose team beat South Carolina in the previous two meetings. “When we do, we have success.”

The Gladiators (7-16-0-2, 16 points) scored on the power play to tie the game 1-1 at 11:06 of the first, but gave that ground back with less than a minute left in the period.

Gwinnett’s Bobby Hughes set up defenseman Rob Kwiet for a big shot from just inside the blue line. Kwiet’s blast was tipped neatly into the far top corner by Bloodoff, beating Jakaitis glove side.

South Carolina (18-4-1-2, 39 points) regained its lead on a rebound banged home from point-blank range at 19:14. The Stingrays, who dominated zone time in the first, took a 2-1 margin into intermission on goals by Wayne Simpson and Patrick Gaul.

A juicy rebound directed to the slot by goalie Paul Karpowich was buried by Lindsay Sparks to push South Carolina’s lead to 3-1 just 4:39 into the second.

“Once a shot’s made, you’ve got to be looking to get sticks and body position,” Emmett said. “We talk about always being sure you’re in good position for that net play.”

The goal lit a fire under the Gladiators, but despite a good push back, they couldn’t get another puck past Jakaitis. He shut down Josh Currie on an outstanding opportunity from in close and held firm during a power play midway through the period.