South Carolina’s Nick Larson is sent flying after scoring the Stingrays’ only goal on Gwinnett’s Mark Guggenberger in the Gladiators’ 4-1 victory over the Stingrays on Friday night. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — The Gwinnett Gladiators broke open a tie game with a three-goal eruption in the second period and beat division-leading South Carolina 4-1 on Friday.
The line of Marshall Everson, Brenden Walker and Casey Pierro-Zabotel was particularly effective, scoring three of the Gladiators’ goals.
“Ever since CPZ got here, they’ve given us a good chance to play together,” Everson said. “He’s a smart player and when you have a playmaker like that in the middle handling the puck a lot, good things will happen. Walks is the same way. When he gets chances, he buries them. Playing with those two guys is special.”
It was a good send-off for the home fans, who won’t see another game until March 29. Gwinnett hits the road for the rematch with South Carolina Saturday night at the North Charleston Coliseum. It’s the first of a seven-game road stretch and third game in as many days after a tough loss in Greenville on Thursday.
“It served as motivation,” Everson said of the 4-2 defeat, which was just the second in a stretch of seven games. “We thought we played well against Greenville, but a couple of errors mid-third period costs us. Those are tough to swallow, especially when we outshot them like 18-9 in the third. We really thought we had the pressure.
“So I think we used that, saw what worked for us, and just tried to start from the drop of the puck tonight.”
The Gladiators were firing away from the get-go, earning a good chance on the first shift and grabbing a 1-0 lead 4:34 into the game. Walker corralled a loose puck in the crease, slid away from traffic and jammed it into the yawning net. Goalie Jeff Jakaitis was on his stomach with a teammate on top of him when the puck found Walker.
Gwinnett had several opportunities to extend its lead, including a 3-on-1 halfway through the period, but instead found itself tied at intermission.
South Carolina scored on a power play at 13:12, Nick Larson banging the puck under goalie Mark Guggenberger in a point-blank play.
“We thought we played a good period,” Everson said. “They scored a power-play goal, made a good play, and that’s going to happen at times. Especially against a good team with skilled forwards. We just wanted to stick to the game plan.
“Really in the second, we felt that’s our type of game we want to play and it showed on the scoreboard.”
Captain Joey Haddad quickly snapped the deadlock, sniping a goal 2:56 into the second period and sparking an offensive burst.
Haddad ripped a shot from inside the faceoff circle into the near top corner, his 17th goal of the season.
Everson and Walker teamed up to extend the lead at 9:03. Everson burst over the blue line on the left-wing boards and whipped a perfectly placed feed to the far post. All Walker had to do was put his stick down and smacked it into the open net for a 3-1 lead.
“Usually it’s the other way around,” Everson said with a laugh. “Earlier this year it seemed like every goal I scored was coming from him. And he set me up last night in Greenville, so I owed him at least one. I think I’m still in debt a few, but we’ll work on it.”
Everson scored his own goal, keeping pace with Haddad for the team lead, at 12:13. Cashing in on some solid pressure, newly acquired defenseman Nolan Descoteaux let fly on a shot from the point. Jakaitis made the save, but Everson was there to sweep the rebound home. Descoteaux picked up his first point in his pro debut, joining the team after the completion of his collegiate season at R.I.T.
Holding that lead took work, but Gwinnett did an exceptional job clogging up the middle of the ice and limiting the Stingrays’ chances. The rest were gobbled up by Guggenberger, who finished with 25 saves.
“Any effective and strong defensive-zone coverage isn’t going to allow a lot of shots, particularly in the middle,” Everson said. “I thought we saw it today for the whole game.
“We had two guys take pucks in the face (Jonathan Narbonne and Mike Merrifield) and that kind of sacrifice just shows the level of commitment from everyone up and down the lineup to playing defense first. That leads to the offense.”