DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators scored three goals on the power play, including Matt York's game winner, and defeated slumping Charlotte 6-3 on Saturday in front of 6,774 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The win, Gwinnett's seventh straight, secures home ice for the Gladiators in the first round of the playoffs. Gwinnett (41-11-7, 89 points) is still in prime position to earn a first-round bye. The Gladiators lead the division by 12 points and by handing Charlotte its fifth consecutive loss, can't be caught by the Checkers.
"We find a way," Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. "We played hard. In the second period, we took ourselves out of some rhythm, but we got the big goal. We overcome just about everything.
"We have our brain cramps and our down nights, but we find a way to win."
Gwinnett, which plays its third game in as many days when South Carolina comes to town today, had trouble shaking loose of Charlotte until midway through the third period. York slung a shot from between the hash marks past screened goalie Jeff Glass at 7:07 and Scott Mifsud got the Gladiators some breathing room a couple minutes later.
Mifsud powered a point-blank rebound home at 9:36 to give Gwinnett its first two-goal lead and the Gladiators added one more with 1:20 remaining in regulation. Guillaume Desbiens' 28th goal of the season added some salt to the wound for a 27-27-5 Charlotte team that hasn't beaten Gwinnett since a shootout in the season opener.
The Gladiators, getting a pep talk from Pyle during the second intermission, were bursting with energy in the third and improved to 6-0-1 against the Checkers.
"I told them, we tied it up, we're the better team, let's get back to what we do best," Pyle said. "Let's get it deep; let's work them.
"I know (the Checkers) were tired. We kept working, too. We finished our hits and that's got to be demoralizing. They knew we were coming."
Each team scored on its first power-play opportunity and they hit the ice for the second period tied 1-1. It was how most of the rest of the game played out, with neither team leading by much or for long.
Jon Awe, the league's most recently named player of the week, unloaded a slap shot from just inside the blue line that was deflected in by Desbiens 77 seconds into the game.
The Checkers had to wait longer for their first power play, but were just as successful with the advantage. Jake Ortmeyer chunked a shot from the bottom of the face-off circle behind Gwinnett goalie Adam Berkhoel at 13:51 to tie the game.
After Charlotte took a 2-1 lead on an even-strength goal halfway through the second period, the Gladiators got even on the power play.
Joel Stepp dished to Mifsud coming up the middle. Mifsud didn't get much of a shot off, but Glass was pulled out of the crease to defend the rush. The puck deflected over to Steve Slaton on the backdoor and Slaton lifted his 13th goal of the season into an open net at 18:01.
Charlotte handed over the lead on a terrible giveaway 90 seconds into the third period, but got it back on a power-play goal less than three minutes later.
Bennett was the recipient of turnover three feet from the crease and backhanded a shot five-hole. It was Bennett's second goal of the season and came unassisted at 1:29.
Mike Bayrack tied the game for a third (and last) time at 4:23.
"Right now if we just win our home games, we do it (earn a first-round bye)," Pyle said. "So I told them we need to really focus on being stingy at home."