Gladiators thump Pensacola 7-1 to move into tie for first

DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators buried Pensacola in the second period again, cruising to a 7-1 win and a share of the division lead Saturday.

In a near duplication of their last meeting, the Gladiators took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission and then put away the Ice Pilots in the middle 20 minutes. Last time it ended in a 7-4 firefight, but Gwinnett maintained its control throughout and took some of the sting out of its week.

The Gladiators, who have outscored Pensacola 20-5 this season, finished a hard week of work the way they started it - in celebration. The victory came on the heels of a shootout loss to Augusta on Thursday and Friday's straight-up defeat in South Carolina.

"I was disappointed (Friday) night because we were playing selfish and stupid," Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. "The only thing that's disheartening is that you know you have no chance to win over the long haul playing that way. I've got to get the guys to buy in better and they did a great job tonight.

"After four in five nights, we got stronger as the game went on, I thought, and played a little smarter. I just like that we finished it the way it should have been finished."

Gwinnett went 2-1-1 this week and capped a stretch of three games in three nights on a high note.

Pascal Pelletier scored first and last in the drubbing. He and Chris Durno each finished with two goals and an assist to lead the point parade.

"Jeff told us to be patient and everything would come to us," Pelletier said. "So we were like waiting for mistakes and when we had the chance to take a shot we buried it.

"Obviously, we needed this win tonight. We were struggling a little bit the last couple games and I think once we get everybody on the same page, it's going to be good for us."

All the things that hadn't been working for Gwinnett in its last few games took a significant turn for the better in the first period.

The power play was clicking - Pelletier scored the period's lone goal on the two-man advantage.

The penalty kill was as good as it's been in weeks, keeping the pressure on Pensacola while down a man.

And the defense, after yielding eight goals in Friday's loss to South Carolina, was all over the rebounds, cleaning up the garbage, clearing the zone and generally making smart decisions.

It all added up to a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Pelletier scored his eighth goal of the season, corralling a rebound and whipping it right under Pensacola goalie Todd Ford. The initial shot came from Jeff Dwyer, who slid into the high slot and unloaded on Ford to set up the power-play tally at 14:27.

Special teams continued to deliver for the Gladiators, albeit with a little help from the Ice Pilots.

Starting the second period on the power play, Pensacola defenseman Corey Neilson turned the puck over to Jeff Campbell at the Ice Pilots' blue line. Campbell walked in alone and snuck the puck under Ford 23 seconds into the period. The short-handed, unassisted goal was Campbell's third tally of the season.

Goals by Scott Kelman and Durno 1:21 apart late in the second period iced the Pilots.

Streaking into the Pensacola zone, Kelman got a sweet feed from Guillaume Desbiens along the boards and beat Ford at 15:32.

Durno made it 4-0 with his 11th goal of the season, rolling over the blue line and planting a puck into far-side netting near Ford's shoulder at 16:53.

Durno picked up his second goal of the night off a gorgeous centering feed from Dwyer. Cycling nicely on the power play, Dwyer found Durno in the slot with a crisp pass and Durno ripped it home at 7:30 of the third period.

Scott Mifsud added insult to injury, capitalizing on another Pensacola give-away to roll in on Ford one-on-one. Mifsud made no mistake, roofing his fifth goal of the season at 12:29 for a 6-0 margin.

Fields, who was spot-on for 60 minutes, had his shutout bid spoiled by a power-play goal at 14:37 before Pelletier capped the scoring at 16:03.

"I thought Fieldsie played really well," Pyle said. "He made the huge saves when he really needed to and as much ice time as he's had, he deserves it. He's been great for us."