By Christine Troyke
Gwinnett Daily Post
DULUTH, Ga. – Bring Mike Stathopoulos (pictured left) up on charges of grand theft.
The Gwinnett Gladiators rookie scored two goals off fantastic steals and helped put away Mississippi 8-1 at home on Saturday in Game 3 of the first round of playoffs.
The Gladiators, taking a 2-1 lead the best-of-five series with a total domination of Game 3, now have a chance to eliminate the Sea Wolves on Monday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Stathopoulos wasn’t the only one guilty of some sly pickpocketing skills – Adam Smyth also made a tremendous move to score his first goal in more than three months. But Stathopoulos was the most brazen offender, potting his second-period tallies unassisted as Gwinnett gained an asphyxiating 4-0 lead.
“I knew it was in us,” said a madly grinning Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle. “I’m really proud of the effort we put forward today.
“I knew coming in we had to play solid. But we were patient enough. We didn’t give them anything.”
With a slim 1-0 lead to start the second period, Stathopoulos stole the puck just outside the blue line, walked in and unleashed a shot – which Mississippi goalie Phil Sauve deflected. But Stathopoulos was still moving toward the net and backhanded the puck out of midair with his stick, scoring 2:25 into the period.
Smyth made it 3-0, swiping the biscuit along the boards and ripping a shot into the far corner even as he got shoved to the ice. Smyth scored his first goal since Jan. 11 at 14:46.Stathopoulos continued his larcenous ways with another heist in the middle of Mississippi’s zone and scored at 18:53.
“The big one was the 2-0 by Mike I think,” Pyle said. “Then all of sudden there was a little bit of pressure off. A huge goal by Smitty and then Mike steals another one. It was a great team effort.”
Watching the Gladiators, you’d never know they played until after midnight – losing Game 2 in overtime to the Sea Wolves – and arrived back in town just barely 12 hours before the puck dropped here.
Climbing all over Mississippi, Gwinnett had a 9-0 shot advantage seven minutes into the game. That pressure yielded the only goal of the first period.
Chris Durno’s wraparound try scooted across the crease to Jeff Campbell at the far post. Campbell, an ECHL All-Rookie selection, pushed home his first playoff goal at 12:29.For the second straight game, the Gladiators got the opening tally.
Unlike on Friday when Mississippi was able to even the score, Gwinnett buried the Sea Wolves under an avalanche of shots. And Pyle has always said good things happen when you shoot the puck.
The Gladiators had a 4-0 lead before Mississippi lit the lamp – and on a dubious call by referee Jamie Koharski. With one second left in the middle period, Koharski signaled that the puck crossed the goal line before the net was knocked off its moorings.
Travis Lisabeth’s tally stood despite objections and the crowd’s heartfelt boos as the replay showed on the matrix board.
But it was a drop in the bucket and Gwinnett added two goals in the first 4:11 of the third period. Durno scored at 1:05 and Kevin Doell’s unassisted tally chased Sauve from the net.
Smyth capped the beatdown and further delighted the crowd with a pounding of Nick Greenough. Smyth, who hasn’t been in a fight at home for some time after multiple injuries, wound it up again. The rookie forward skated to the penalty box waving his jersey over his head, sending the fans into a frenzy.
Kris Goodjohn’s goal with 1:42 left and Doell’s second 30 seconds later – both on the power play – just made it gaudy.
“This is crazy,” Pyle said, summing up succinctly.