DULUTH - Chad Painchaud scored two goals for the second straight night and the Gwinnett Gladiators finally dispatched the Alaska Aces 6-2 before a full house on Saturday night.
Tied 2-2 after 40 minutes, it took Painchaud all of 36 seconds to give the Gladiators their third lead of the game. Painchaud chipped a bouncing puck past Aces goalie Derek Gustafson on his first shift of the final period and Gwinnett rolled from there, getting a measure of revenge against the defending champs.
Alaska defeated the Gladiators in last year's ECHL finals and again here on Tuesday night in overtime, but failed to keep pace in the third period.
After Painchaud's quick go-ahead tally, Colton Fretter gave Gwinnett a little breathing room with an impressive individual effort. Fretter scored his team-leading 28th goal of the season unassisted. The rookie stole the puck from Alaska behind its own goal, cut to the front of the net and punched his own rebound home at 9:41.
That brought the near sellout crowd of 10,853 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center to its feet - though the Gladiators weren't quite done. Fretter and Scott Mifsud both scored on the power play to ice the win.
The Gladiators (27-13-5) snapped Alaska's five-game winning streak and remained at the top of the American Conference standings.
But Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle was not in a light-hearted mood following the win.
"I'm happy we won," he said, still quietly fuming. "I'm happy for (goalie) David Caruso. Besides that, this team hasn't learned...they'll be fine with that game. The turnovers, sloppy play, selfishness, it's the same (stuff) that killed us in the finals. We don't get it. We're in first place, that's great, but we will not win the cup playing that way. The flat-out truth is we're not committed to doing what it takes to win a
Pyle was nearly grinding his teeth and was highly critical of the team's play despite the victory.
"We talk about how important it is for us to be good defensively," Pyle said. "But without Caruso in there, we lose that game. The second period he kept us in it."
The Gladiators potted the first goal for the second straight game against Alaska, this on a bang-bang passing play during 4-on-4 action early in the game.
Brad Schell added to his league-leading assist mark with a centering feed from the left corner that found Painchaud in the slot. Painchaud pulled the trigger on a point-blank bullet 5:35 into the game. It was the first of four assists in the game for Schell, who has now tied the franchise record for most points in a season (88).
The quick goal and then successful kill of an extended 5-on-3 Alaska power play gave the buzzing masses plenty to shout about in the first period.
The lead lasted until Alaska (30-12-2) tied it just as its next man advantage expired 4:58 into a penalty-filled second period.
Trading official power-play goals left the teams deadlocked at 2 heading for the third period.
The Gladiators went up 2-1 when Schell dished a pass to Jamie Milam above the left faceoff circle.
Milam buried a slap shot at 8:49 to capitalize on a 5-on-3 advantage, but the Aces got even again at 12:16 on a goal by Kevin Croxton.
Alaska outshot Gwinnett 18-10 in the second period and only some spectacular saves by Caruso - especially on a short-handed breakaway by veteran Ace Kimbi Daniels in the final minutes - kept the Gladiators from falling behind.
"We're not committed to playing defense," Pyle said. "We're not committed to playing smart. We think it's all about points and taking chances."
Even after Painchaud and Fretter broke the game open, Pyle thought the team wasn't being responsible.
"I'm real big on just the little things," the three time All-Star coach said. "We had a 4-2 lead and we just take chances. We might get to 5-2, but there's a pretty good chance we're going to get to 4-3 instead and we haven't learned that.
"The guys in that locker room that were here last year should be sending that message and they're not."
Gustafson, ceding four goals in the third period, lost for a second straight time at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. The last time the netminder played here was when Paul Flache scored in double overtime to oust Gustafson and his Louisiana team from the 2004 playoffs.