South Carolina goalie Phillipp Grubauer was good, but unfortunately for the Stingrays, Gwinnett goalie Jeff Jakaitis was a little bit better.
Jakaitis made 29 saves and Chris Clackson got the game-winner in the third period to lead Gwinnett past South Carolina, 2-1, Friday night before a crowd of 2,226 at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The Gladiators improved to 12-8-8 (32 points) and moved into sole possession of first place in the ECHL's South Division. The Stingrays fell to 14-10-1 (29 points), three points behind the Gladiators.
The game featured two of the top goalies in the ECHL in Grubauer and Jakaitis. Both are among the league leaders in goals against average and save percentage.
For the first 40 minutes, the two matched each other save for save. The only difference was an early short-handed goal by the Gladiators.
"They are two of the best in the league," said Stingrays captain Matt Scherer. "They both played well. I'm not sure we really had a lot of grade-A chances, but Jakaitis has been around this league for a while and knows how to win. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he moves really well. Again, I didn't think we got enough traffic in front of him. We need to work harder in front of the net."
The Stingrays' sputtering power play, which hadn't recorded a goal in five games, did manage to finally convert in the third period, but there were too many blown opportunities early in the game.
"The power play continues to be the same personnel and we're getting the same result," said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. "I'm sure they're frustrated. I know those guys want to do well and they want to have success. They're trying their hardest, but they've got to find a way to get it done."
Scherer said the Stingrays' power play has to improve sooner rather than later.
"It's starting to become an issue," Scherer said. "We've got to simplify things. Get shots to the net, get some traffic in front of the goalie and battle for the puck."
The Gladiators took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period on Paul Flache's short-handed goal, his first of the season.
"We have a turnover, odd-man rush going the other way and it ends up in the back of our net," Carbery said. "Nothing Phillipp could have done about that one."
The Gladiators took a 2-0 lead on Clackson's goal from just inside the blue line. Grubauer appeared to be confused on the play as Clackson's offspeed shot trickled past him into the net.
"I don't know if Phillipp didn't expect the shot or if it got deflected," Carbery said. "It's the story of the game for us. We turn the puck over on the wall trying to come out of our own end and eventually we get burned. Phillipp bailed us out enough times tonight. You can't fault him."
The Gladiators' goal seemed to inspire the Stingrays the rest of the way as they dominated the action, getting several quality scoring chances in the final 10 minutes of the game.
Zach Tarkir closed the gap to 2-1 with the Stingrays' first power-play goal in five games.
"Glad to see Zach get rewarded on the play," Carbery said. "We need the blue line to become a little more involved offensively."
But the Stingrays could get no closer as Jakaitis closed the door in the final five minutes of the game.
"We turned the puck over way too much, especially in the first 40 minutes," Carbery said. "Just really, really subpar performance from the Stingrays."
--The Stingrays signed Chris Doyle on Thursday. Doyle, a fifth-round draft pick of the New York Rangers in 2008, had 31 points (18 goals, 13 assists) for Augusta of the Southern Professional Hockey League.
--The Stingrays are 8-4-0 at home and 6-5-1 on the road this season.
First Period: 1. G, Flache 1 (Brutlag, Murovich), 10:06. Penalties: Murovich, G (holding), 6:32; Brandt, G (interference), 8:15; Murovich, G (fighting), 12:53; O'Brien, SC (fighting), 12:53; Karshirsky, G (tripping), 18:29.
Second Period: No goals. Penalties: Tarkir, SC (holding), 8:11; Haddad, G (tripping), 11:43.
Third Period: 2. G, Clackson 4 (Murovich, Brutlag), 7:01. 3. SC, Tarkir 3 (Doyle, Dolan), 14:35. Penalties: Jackson, G (holding), 13:00; Gongalsky, G (hooking), 19:49.
Shots on Goal: Stingrays 8-7-15-30; Gwinnett: 8-9-6-23. Penalties: Stingrays 2-7; Gwinnett 7-17. Power Play: Stingrays: 1 for 6; Gwinnett 0 for 1. Goalies: Stingrays - Phillipp Grubaurer (10-4-1) 36 shots, 35 saves. Gwinnett - Jeff Jakatis (7-3-1) 27 shots, 23 saves. Att: 1,886.
Gwinnett Gladiators (12-8-8, 32 points) at South Carolina Stingrays (14-10-1, 29 points)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: North Charleston Coliseum