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Gladiators can’t keep pace with East-leading Stingrays

DULUTH — South Carolina broke open a close game in the third period to win 5-2 and hand the Gwinnett Gladiators their sixth straight loss Sunday.

The Gladiators have had more success against the conference-leading Stingrays than anyone in the ECHL, but couldn’t keep pace down the stretch this time. Of South Carolina’s paltry 15 regulation losses this season, five have been courtesy of Gwinnett.

Despite a competitive first 40 minutes, the Gladiators weren’t able to add to that total playing their third game in 48 hours. Gwinnett was edged twice by Reading, another top team in the East, before falling to the rival Stingrays (33-15-1-3).

Half the game elapsed in a back-and-forth parries before the red light finally came on. Then it was a microburst of scoring.

The teams combined for three goals in 49 seconds with South Carolina scoring first and last for a 2-1 lead.

The Gladiators (18-30-2-2) were working on a sustained cycle with excellent pressure, but couldn’t cash in and South Carolina burst back the other way.

Wayne Simpson pounced on the rebound after goalie Andrew Loewen made a sterling first save. Simpson, among the Stingrays’ top scorers, roofed it for a 1-0 lead at 12:44 of the second period.

Gwinnett answered just 23 seconds later when Jerome Gauthier-Leduc’s shot from the point deflected off Joey Haddad’s skate.

But Peter Boyd added to his team-leading goal total with Loewen on his stomach and heavy traffic in front. Boyd slid to the open side and had an easy shot into the yawning net at 13:33.

Boyd then set up linemate Jack Downing on a power-play goal a few minutes later to give the Stingrays a 3-1 lead.

Downing, unguarded on the far post, capped the sharp passing play at 18:15.

The Gladiators pulled back within one just 14 seconds later on a reviewed goal by Dirk Southern.

Dancing around the crease, Southern’s shot got under goalie Max Strang. It was unclear if the puck fully crossed the line. The goal judge hit the red light, but there was no indication from referee Brett Sheva. The officials conferred and counted Southern’s eighth goal of the year at 18:29.

That quickly slipped away when the Gladiators were called for overlapping penalties to start the third.

South Carolina made it 4-2 during an extended 5-on-3 power play at 3:05 and salted away the win with Simpson’s second goal of the game at 9:51.