DULUTH -- Playing at home for the first time in a month, the Gwinnett Gladiators treated a sparse but faithful crowd to a 5-4 comeback win over Orlando on Thursday night.
Andy Brandt completed the rally with the game-winning goal as time dwindled away in the third period.
The captain corralled a rebound on the far side of the net and ripped a turnaround shot into the top shelf with 3:24 remaining in regulation.
Brandt's 10th goal of the season capped a necessary rally after the Gladiators (38-25-2-1, 79 points) gave away a two-goal lead in the second period. Orlando scored three unanswered goals to carry a 4-3 lead into the final 20 minutes, but Gwinnett remained calm.
"The guys didn't say too much (at intermission)," Brandt said. "I think we knew we lost a little momentum in the second period, but our message was stick with the process, persevere. We know games ebb and flow, we just wanted to stick with it and give one last push."
Orlando (26-31-3-3, 58 points) scored first in a mistake-filled start to the game. On a power play, Scott Tanski punched in a short rebound at 10:50 for a 1-0 lead.
Doug Jones, recently returned from a stint in the AHL, made a concerted effort to draw Gwinnett even with 2:46 left in the period. Jones muscled his way out of the corner and executed a deft spin-o-rama to get free near the face-off dot. He whipped his shot up over goalie Patrick Killeen's shoulder and in off both posts to tie it 1-1.
The Gladiators opened up a 3-1 lead on a pair of goals by Justin Bowers in the second period, but saw it quickly evaporate.
Alex Belzile set up Bowers for the 2-1 lead. He found Bowers wide open on the far side of the crease just 2:33 into the period. Bowers slammed it into a yawning net.
Gwinnett kept pushing and was buzzing in the Solar Bears' zone when Bowers somehow snuck a puck shot from the goal line between Killeen and the post at 12:04.
"It's that time of year where guys are going to the net hard," Brandt said. "(Bowers) had a good shot there, but there were guys in front of the net that created a little havoc for their goaltender.
"It's the time of the year where you've got to win games in those tough areas. I think we stepped up and it's big at this time of the year to score those."
But Orlando answered 42 seconds later, on rookie Ryan Berard's first goal of the season, and then tied it on the power play less two minutes after that. Goalie Louis Domingue kicked a rebound right to Dale Mahovsky on the doorstep at 14:43 and Mahovsky had an easy putback for his first goal of the season.
The Gladiators failed to stem the tide and fell behind 4-3 with 15 seconds to go in the period on a defensive breakdown.
Yuri Bouharevich tied it again on a tremendous effort at 11:30 of the third period. Bouharevich danced back and forth in the corner, finally creating some open ice and let loose a sniper shot from the faceoff circle. It beat Killeen short side and Bouharevich celebrated his third goal of the season with a big upper-cut fist pump as he skated toward the bench. The play was made possible by a fantastic keep at the blue line by defenseman Corey Fienhage.