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Donald's late goal helps rally Gladiators past Cincinnati

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DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators played catch-up for most of the game Wednesday, but their first lead was the only one they needed.

Defenseman Ryan Donald whipped a shot from the point that caught Cincinnati goalie Michael Houser's blocker arm and snuck in with 2:09 left in regulation.

"(Evan) Bloodoff was standing right there in front so the goalie would have been hard-pressed to be able find that one," Donald said. "It was a nice little pass from (Ryan) Ginand and I was just trying to get the puck through."

Captain Andy Brandt sealed the 5-3 victory with an empty-net goal and the Gladiators (41-25-2-1, 85 points) battled back to push their winning streak to five games.

The Cyclones (40-19-5-3, 88 points) carved out one-goal leads three times, only to see Gwinnett tie it every time.

"You're going to face (tight games) from here on out," Donald said. "You find yourself in the third period where the game is definitely still up for grabs, whether you're up or down by one or it's tied. But it's definitely big. It's nice to have clinched (a playoff spot), but we've got four or five teams right at our heels."

Gwinnett has three games left in the regular season, two at home this Saturday and next.

"All the games are against teams itching to get higher in the playoff standings," Donald said. "You can't ask for any better. Sometimes you play against teams that are down and out, and you get into bad habits. But we've got to stay on top of our game and that should help us in the playoffs."

Cincinnati capitalized on rebounds to take 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first period.

Just 4:15 into the game, a juicy rebound found Mathieu Aubin alone on the backdoor for an easy putback.

The Gladiators answered that quickly with a blistering shot from Joey Haddad at 6:03 to tie the game 1-1. Haddad got a cross-ice feed and teed off on a blast from the top of the circle.

But the Cyclones scored on the power-play, a point-blank rebound banged home by Justin Vaive, with just 2:05 left in the first period for a 2-1 lead.

Gwinnett came back with its own power-play goal in the second period to tie the game again.

A feed from behind the net went all the way to the top of the circles for a waiting Doug Jones. The Marietta native hammered the slap shot into the back of the net at 7:35.

Cincinnati pushed ahead once more at 10:16 of the third, but the Gladiators locked things up again less than two minutes later.

Both were power-play goals for teams which have struggled on the man-advantage this season.

Gwinnett crashed the net to tie it for the third time.

Justin Bowers, part of a scrum in the crease, bashed a loose puck under Houser at 12:01.

"They've got a good team there," Donald said. "We had a little bit of a feeling out period there since we've only seen them once so far. But we're peaking at the right time, hopefully."