DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators were shut out for just the third time all season and dropped a 3-0 decision to Florida on Tuesday.
The Everblades buried Gwinnett with special teams, scoring twice with the man advantage, once short-handed and holding the league's No. 1 power play scoreless at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The last time the Gladiators were blanked at home was the season opener against Charlotte. The only other time Gwinnett failed to light the lamp was a game against Greenville in January.
"We were awful," Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said matter-of-factly. "For the past couple weeks we haven't played well. We've gotten by on some games, but we've gotten lazy and you can tell.
"We broke our arms patting each other on the back about first place and totally forgot there's more games to be played."
Gwinnett (48-15-7, 103 points) secured the conference's top seed last Saturday and was listless in the regular-season series finale with second-place Florida. The Everblades (46-20-4, 96 points) are locked into the division's No. 2 seed, but played with an intensity the belied that fact.
Florida goalie Phil Osaer was instrumental in the win, making all 25 saves to deny the top-scoring team in the ECHL.
"I was happy with the way we played," Florida head coach Gerry Fleming said. "We played a smart road game, just kept it simple. We know they're a good team, they just keep coming at you in waves."
The first period played out predictably - slow and cautious. Neither team was interested in getting injured or, seemingly, expending too much energy. One good scoring chance and a Gladiator power play were the highlights, and both came in the final three minutes.
"It was maybe not the same pace these two teams normally play at," Fleming said. "But I thought as the game went on, the sense of urgency came into both teams. I thought it was a good game overall."
Gwinnett's lines were all mixed up with players back from the American Hockey League and injured reserve and it was Florida that first found something approaching full speed.
The Everblades scored a pair of power-play goals in the second period and took a 2-0 lead into the final 20 minutes. Vince Bellissimo, left open in the slot, beat Gladiators' goalie Adam Berkhoel 2:47 into the second. Defenseman Tyson Teplitsky doubled that advantage with his ninth goal of the season at 8:13.
"To me it's a perfect eye-opener," Pyle said. "You can call guys out on this. Win or lose, it wouldn't have mattered. This is the eye-opener we need. We've been struggling and you get guys that have been playing hockey for 20 years and they can't cover the point men. That's just retarded. That's just not caring enough about your job."
Florida rounded out the scoring with a short-hander in the third period by Dustin Johner.
Gwinnett, clicking at an ECHL-best 24.5 percent on the power play, was totally stymied by the Everblades fourth-ranked penalty kill unit.
"We're just lazy, we're sloppy, inconsistent," Pyle said. "But I don't expect us to come with that same energy when the playoffs start either.
"It's a good character question for the guys in the locker room. How bad do they want to be good? Yeah, we're in first place right now, but that means nothing. It just means you get a home game. It doesn't mean you're going to win anything."
The team, with games at home Friday and Saturday, was going to get today off. Pyle changed his mind after Tuesday's effort.
"We didn't work hard tonight," Pyle said, "so they're going to work hard tomorrow."
Note: Brad Schell was called up to the Gladiators' American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago on Tuesday.