DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators picked up important wins in their final two games of the regular season.
More because of who they beat than for what it did to their record.
The Gladiators had already secured the No. 1 seed in the conference, so four more points made no difference there. But beating up on South Carolina and Augusta sent a message.
Gwinnett could face either of those two teams, as well as Charlotte, in the South Division semifinals. The Gladiators (50-15-7) earned a first-round bye and wait to see who advances from this week's division quarterfinals.
South Carolina, which lost to Gwinnett 5-1 on Friday, started its best-of-three series with Charlotte on Monday.
Augusta is already a game down to the division's No. 3 seed, Greenville. The Lynx lost Game 1 3-2 on Sunday afternoon, about 12 hours after being beaten 5-3 by the Gladiators in the regular season finale. That series could be over today if Greenville wins in Augusta. But Gwinnett, which plays the lowest remaining seed, can't face the Grrrowl. If Greenville advances, the Grrrowl will play Florida, the division's No. 2 seed and also waiting with a first-round bye.
The Gladiators took Sunday off and had an optional skate Monday before getting back to regular workouts today. They prepare, at least until Thursday, without a specific opponent. Which is just fine with head coach Jeff Pyle.
"It's really about us," Pyle said. "If we play hard like we can and we don't give up easy ones, we have a chance to win. That's the thing - do we ever learn that or not?"
The home dates, if not the opponent, are set. Game 1 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center is Saturday at 7:35 p.m. Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at 4:05. Games 3 and 4 depend on who advances. Game 5, if necessary, is April 23 at 4:05 p.m.
Making all the stops
Goaltender Adam Berkhoel, called up from Gwinnett to NHL Atlanta on Saturday, was assigned to Chicago of the American Hockey League on Monday.
Berkhoel backed up Mike Dunham on Saturday and was sent to the Wolves when Atlanta recalled another former Gladiator goalie, Michael Garnett, from Chicago.
If Chicago loses today to Iowa, the Wolves are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and Berkhoel would likely be returned to Gwinnett in time for Saturday's postseason opener.
On the plus side
Forward Brad Schell finished the 2005-06 season ranked first on the Gladiators with a plus/minus ranking of +32. That rating was also good for fourth overall in the ECHL despite missing the Gladiators last three games while on callup to AHL Chicago.
Schell finished just shy of tying Jim Jackson's team record for best plus/minus in a season (+34).
All 25 ECHL teams turned in their playoff rosters on Monday.
The Gladiators included Chris Durno, who has spent nearly all of this season in the AHL with Milwaukee. The Admirals, at the top of their division, have already qualified for the playoffs. But should Milwaukee be eliminated from the Calder Cup race, Durno could come back to Gwinnett.
The third-year pro has played the requisite five ECHL games this season.