DULUTH - After a string of losses, the Gwinnett Gladiators got a winning streak going on Saturday.
It wasn't perfect, but the effort was much improved over a couple of recent outings at the Arena at Gwinnett Center and the Gladiators defeated a struggling South Carolina Stingrays team 3-1 in front of 6,340.
Gwinnett won its second game in as many days, and did it without ECHL leading scorer Brad Schell, who was called up to Chicago of the American Hockey League on Saturday morning.
The Gladiators snapped a three-game losing streak on Friday night in Florida and didn't arrive back in town until Saturday morning.
Despite the 10-hour road trip home and a wicked schedule of games this week, Gwinnett displayed an energy level lacking of late. The Gladiators (31-17-6, 68 points) scored 71 seconds into the game and never trailed the Stingrays (26-20-7, 59 points).
"I'm fine with (this game)," Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. "A 3-1 win, we won 4-2 last night. We're not getting a lot of shots, but when you're winning, you don't have to.
"I told them, we had 46 (shots on goal) against Pensacola (on Tuesday) and we lost 7-3. So we have to learn to play a different type of game without Scheller and (injured Colton Fretter). We have to make sure we're not giving them away."
Gwinnett, which completes a stretch of five games in six days this afternoon (4 p.m.) at home against Pensacola, was 1-4-1 before Friday night's win over Florida. South Carolina is mired in a 0-2-4 skid and fell a little further behind in the division standings.
The Stingrays are sixth in the eight-team ECHL South. They hung with third-place Gwinnett, outshooting the Gladiators by a severe 32-12 margin, but didn't keep pace after tying the game in the first two minutes.
"I'm just hoping that at some point we see, with the 12 shots and 18 last night, that you can win by playing defense," Pyle said. "It's the only way in the playoffs we're going to have a sniff.
"But the thing is, do they learn this lesson? That's the thing I haven't seen from them."
Gwinnett opened the scoring when Blue Bennefield converted on a centering feed from Joel Stepp at 1:11. But South Carolina answered quickly - and while it was short-handed. The Gladiators were just seconds into their first power play when South Carolina's Stephen Werner and Brendan Bernakevitch were allowed to set up in the Gwinnett zone.
Bernakevitch dished to Werner, who rifled a wrist shot past goalie Dave Caruso at 1:54. It was the 12th short-handed goal given up by the Gladiators this season on what is statistically the most efficient power play in the ECHL.
Gwinnett got it back on its second power-play chance, though, and took a 2-1 lead into the intermission. Chad Painchaud was between the circles when he got the puck from Mike Vigilante and Painchaud found the back of the net with a shot threaded through traffic at 12:50.
The Gladiators doubled their advantage with the only goal of the second and did it despite being heavily outshot for the first 14 minutes of the period.
Gwinnett had two shots on goal with 61⁄2 minutes left in the second. But it wasn't too much longer before the fleet-footed pair of Andy Contois and Vigilante went to work giving the Gladiators a little more breathing room.
On the rush together, Vigilante passed to Contois, who missed on his first shot. Vigilante gathered in the puck again behind the net and snapped it over to Contois at the bottom of the faceoff circle. Contois spun around and made no mistake on his second try, scoring at 16:12 for a 3-1 lead.
The Gladiators made it interesting by giving South Carolina an abbreviated two-man advantage in the final minutes. But they survived that and getting just one shot on goal in the third period.
"It's just a good, solid win that we needed," Pyle said.