Gwinnett Gladiator forward Marshall Everson (No. 3) sets up Gwinnett’s first goal of the game on Orlando netminder Christopher Gibson on Saturday. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — They may have ceded a point to a division rival, but the Gwinnett Gladiators certainly rebounded admirably after a disastrous outing against the same Orlando Solar Bears.
The Gladiators came out with all the verve and energy missing from their game a night earlier and charged to a 5-2 lead Saturday. But the Solar Bears pulled starting goalie Christopher Gibson and the Gladiators couldn’t get a puck past reliever Ross MacKinnon.
Until the shootout.
Rob Kwiet was the only player for either team to score in the shootout. He skated in slowly and then roofed a bullet past MacKinnon to give Gwinnett a 6-5 victory.
“Certainly we came out the way we wanted to come out,” Gladiators head coach Rick Emmett said. “We played the way we wanted to play — for the most part. We talk about ebbs and flows. We talk about detail. Our detail let us down, giving up the lead.
“That’s been addressed. These guys have to start recognizing that when our attention to detail isn’t there, there’ll be consequences. As we get healthier, and we get more bodies, there will be consequences.”
Kwiet, Maxime Legault and Marshall Everson all had multi-point nights in what was a marked improvement after Friday’s 5-1 failure against Orlando.
“In the end, we are starving for points game in, game out,” Emmett said. “And we got two points — however we got to there. But we’ll have to address things.”
The two teams exploded for four goals in a span of just 2:34 during the middle of the first period. To the delight of the sizable home crowd — 7,391 strong at the Arena at Gwinnett Center — three of those were by the Gladiators.
Kurtis Bartliff jumped on the loose puck when a 2-on-1 couldn’t be converted and ripped it into the far top corner for the first strike at 9:29.
The Gladiators pushed their lead to 2-0 just 1:09 later. Brett Lyon charged down the wing and left a drop pass for Josh Currie at the top of the circle. Currie danced into the slot and snapped a pin-balling puck past Gibson.
Orlando took its timeout immediately after Currie’s eighth goal of the season and made it a 2-1 game just 21 seconds later.
But Gwinnett’s reemerged power play cashed in on its first chance and the Gladiators carried a 3-1 lead into intermission. Kwiet’s quick shot from the top of the circle was deflected home by Legault at 12:03.
Kwiet scored his own goal just 1:39 into the second period to give Gwinnett a big 4-1 lead. Kwiet deked around a defender and let an off-speed shot fly. It found the back of the net and Kwiet leaped into the boards in celebration.
The home fans were further treated when Lyon dropped the gloves with former Gladiator defenseman Corey Fienhage right after Kwiet’s goal. Lyon landed a powerful hook and took Fienhage down.
Orlando climbed within 4-2 on Zach Harrison’s second goal of the game, a beauty scored off the far post as he was falling down at 5:27.
Everson matched that with a snipe of his own at 9:29 and Gwinnett led 5-2. Joey Haddad’s feed from the corner found Everson on the doorstep and the recently returned rookie forward ripped it past Gibson.
That was the end of Gibson’s night — and the end of the Gladiators scoring.
“We got mentally loose,” Emmett said. “Our energy and our battle level is pretty good. Certainly not letting off the gas, but just disengaged mentally a little bit.”
MacKinnon shut the door on numerous chances in relief and allowed the Solar Bears to claw their way back.
“He came into a tough position and played really well,” Emmett said of MacKinnon. “There’s a rhyme and reason when you pull the goalie. It’s not to degrade anybody. It’s to give the team a boost. They probably didn’t play as well in front of Gibson as they did MacKinnon, too.”
Gwinnett was clinging to a 5-4 lead with under five minutes left in regulation when a backhanded shot flung in from the blueline by Eric Baier slipped under the crossbar.
“That’s why we talk about putting pucks on net and getting traffic in front,” Emmett said. “It allows things like that to happen. It was a turnover and we didn’t get it out and we didn’t make up for it.”