DULUTH -- The already short-handed Gwinnett Gladiators lost one of their most effective weapons in the first period and still persevered. With a big exclamation point.
For the second night in a row, defenseman Russ Sinkewich scored the game-winner, this one at 2:09 of overtime, to give the Gladiators a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Florida Everblades on Saturday.
Sinkewich's steeply angled rip from the corner rode up Florida goalie Rob Madore's stick and over his shoulder to send the Gladiators pouring off the bench.
The shot capped an impressive effort from Gwinnett, which was down to 13 skaters following the ejection of Evan Bloodoff.
"Tonight was a night of just willing it," Sinkewich said. "Just keep throwing adversity in our face was kind of our mantra. It didn't matter if we lost Bloody early in the game -- which obviously that's a huge loss offensively -- our gameplan doesn't change. We just keep rolling."
Bloodoff was tossed from the game when referee Frederic Leblanc incorrectly called him for an elbowing major and gave him a game misconduct.
In reality, Bloodoff cleanly checked Florida's Matthew Pistilli into the boards. Pistilli ended up bloody when his face hit the glass and Leblanc threw the book at Bloodoff, who has 25 points in 32 games for the Gladiators this season. Aaron Bogosian went after Bloodoff for the hit and the two fought briefly. Once it was over, Bloodoff was banished to the locker room.
Leblanc never raised his hand to signal a penalty on Bloodoff for the hit, only deciding on the call after the fight was over, and the crowd berated the ref as Bloodoff skated to the locker room.
"From my vantage point from the bench, it appeared to be a very clean hit," Gwinnett head coach John Wroblewski said. "And from the replay I saw on the jumbotron, it seemed to be a clean hit. His shoulder was down, there was no elbow. I would love an explanation from the league as to how that could possibly be interpreted as a five-minute major.
"It's very frustrating. From my vantage on the ice and the jumbotron, Pistilli tried to toe-drag on a forecheck and really put himself in a bad spot. All Evan did was finish with his shoulder. Unfortunately, those things happen in hockey. But at the end of the day, it was another rallying point for us."
The Gladiators surged back from a 2-1 deficit with a pair of goals three minutes apart in the second period and then earned two big points by overcoming Florida's third power-play goal.
Collapsing on the net, the Everblades tied it 3-3 at 8:43 of the third period when a deflected puck found Brayden Irwin alone on the far post.
"You look at their lineup, headlined by two NHLers (Mark Stuart and Ryan O'Byrne) who have about 600 games between them in the National League, and immediately you're an underdog," Wroblewski said. "But I think the 15 guys, including the goalies, that finished the game, proved that hockey is the ultimate team game. You have to have everybody clicking on the same cylinders.
"When we had all five guys on the ice tonight and the goalie in the cage, we controlled the pace of the play against a lineup that really should have controlled us."
The Gladiators scored first when Alex Belzile made Florida pay for a horrific giveaway in the first period.
Belzile picked off a pass from O'Byrne at the top of the circle and danced toward the net. Belzile deked and drew Madore to one side, leaned to the other side and deposited the puck in the open net at 3:57.
Florida tied it on the power play that resulted from the elbowing major called on Bloodoff. Goalie Louis Domingue was caught out of position as he tried to play the puck and Leigh Salters made it 1-1 at 11:03 of the first.
Gwinnett killed off the rest of the penalty, but Florida grabbed a 2-1 lead 2:08 into the second period on another power-play chance.
Not too long afterward, the Gladiators found their stride again.
They sent wave after wave at Florida and rallied to wrest the lead away from the Everblades.
Captain Andy Brandt smashed home his own rebound to tie it at 12:15 and Doug Jones, who set up Brandt, gave Gwinnett a 3-2 lead at 15:15.
Jones got a good drop pass from Casey Pierro-Zabotel on the wing and rifled it past Madore.
"That's the game -- there are going to be ups and downs in any game," Sinkewich said. "It's just important to weather the other team's storm and match its intensity and capitalize on our opportunities. At the end of the day, it's everybody's job to create momentum. Whether it's a hit or a goal, a pass, a good play offensively or defensively.
"Top to bottom, every single person contributed and that's all you can ask."