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Sinkewich buries winning goal for Gladiators

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DULUTH -- Defenseman Russ Sinkewich started at the top of one circle, sliding backward with his stick poised.

He looked, looked, looked -- waiting for an open lane.

When he found it, Sinkewich pulled the trigger on an absolute bullet and gave the Gwinnett Gladiators a 3-2 victory over South Carolina on Friday night.

"I was just waiting for something to open up," said Sinkewich, who was acquired in a trade with Alaska on Dec. 13. "I kind of surprised myself with how much time I created. I was pretty fortunate though, their first winger kind of bit on my first pump-fake and my momentum carried me into a much more advantageous lane."

Sinkewich's shot through traffic rang around the inside of the net in a flash to break up a tie game and keep the Gladiators at the top of the South Division.

"Our net presence from (Doug Jones and Andy Brandt) was textbook," Sinkewich said. "They got in front, created some traffic and that's how lanes open up."

Goaltender Mike Lee held off the Stingrays for the duration, finishing with 22 saves for his 11th win of the season.

The Gladiators (23-12-1-0, 47 points) play at home again tonight against Florida. Puck drop is 7:05 p.m. at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

"We're all professionals and we know another one is coming right down the pipe quick," Sinkewich said. "It's the last of seven games in 10 nights for us, so we've got to play responsibly and bring it for 60 minutes to close this segment out on the right note."

The only goal of the first period was on a rather soft shot lofted in from the half wall by Casey Pierro-Zabotel. The Gladiators all-star pick and leading point-getter pulled up along the boards and arced a wrister toward the net. Goaltender Ryan Zapolski collapsed on it, but it snuck through and slowly trickled inside the far post at 13:42.

South Carolina's Chris Langkow scored two goals 94 seconds apart -- one short-handed -- to give the Stingrays (15-17-1-3, 34 points) a 2-1 lead in the second period. Both were off odd-man rushes, the first particularly egregious when the Gladiators were on the power play at 6:22.

But the Gladiators kept working and tied it at 12:46.

Alex Belzile dug the puck out of the corner and dropped a pass to Jones, who found a gap between Zapolski and the near post. It was Jones' team-leading 13th goal of the season.

"I've only been here for maybe a month now, but one of the first things I noticed, and was perfectly true tonight, is the character in this (locker) room is unbelievable," Sinkewich said. "It's undeniable that there is so much fight, whether we're down one or two, whether they're good goals or bad goals against, the next shift, we reset and it's right back at it."