DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators added some reinforcements, but it was Andy Contois and Brad Schell leading the charge against the Florida Everblades for the second straight night.
The Gladiators, with goals by Schell and Contois less than 90 seconds apart in the third period, defeated Florida 3-1 before 7,912 on Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
It was a solid team effort though, with defenseman Jim Jackson scoring the big first goal of a tight battle between the top two teams in the American Conference. Goalie Dan Turple had a sterling performance as well, making several outstanding saves en route to his sixth consecutive victory.
"Turps played phenomenal," Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle said.
"He made some huge saves and in the end, we did what we had to do. We're finding ways to do it. Guys are playing hard."
Gwinnett, which signed former NHLer Scott Pearson and former Gladiator Brian Teixeira on Saturday, had a full compliment of skaters for the first time in quite a while. The results were basically the same though as Gwinnett won for the seventh time in eight games.
"I though it was a pretty good game," Pyle said. "I knew it was going to be sloppy because both teams have got to be tired. With our guys traveling to the All-Star Game, the way Scheller and (Colton Fretter) and Jonny Awe played, I tip my hat to them.
"Everybody's battling. Scotty Pearson did a good job, energy in the room. Tex did a great job doing the little things. You need guys like that."
The Gladiators (24-12-4) have opened up a four-point lead over Florida (24-13-0) in the South Division standings with back-to-back wins this weekend. The Everblades will get a chance to get those points back when the series turns to Estero next weekend for a pair of games at Germain Arena.
"We held serve here at home," Pyle said.
"Now we go down there, it's kind of like a playoff series really. We go down there and force them to beat you, hope you don't give it away. You get two points out of next week and you're in pretty good shape.
"You get two points, you've done your job on the road."
Which is obviously what Florida was hoping for after falling to the Gladiators 4-3 on Friday night. But Gwinnett got going first and led from wire to wire.
After almost 28 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Gladiators turned a mistake by Florida defenseman Ryan Van Buskirk into the game's first goal.
Van Buskirk, who played part of the 2004-05 season with Gwinnett, fed an attempted outlet pass right to Jackson, who was just outside the Everblades' blue line.
Jackson stepped on the gas, rolled through the faceoff circle and ripped a wrist shot between the near post and All-Star goalie David Shantz' shoulder at 12:21 of the second period. The unassisted goal was Jackson's ninth of the season and the only scoring of the first 40 minutes.
"Jimmy is a lot better offensively that people give him credit for and he stepped up nice," Pyle said. "He's got a good shot, plus he beat that (Florida defender) with his strength and stepped inside of him. That's what got him the shot, but that was a great shot."
Schell, who has a ridiculous 60 assists this season and leads the league in points, gave the Gladiators a bit more breathing room with his 19 th goal of the season.
With Gwinnett triangulating the Florida net, Schell took up residence on top of the crease and was there for a centering feed from behind the net. Schell roofed his chance and gave the Gladiators a 2-0 lead 5:12 into the third period.
"The way they ground out that second goal, they kept it behind the net and finally when it did come out front, we worked it pretty good," Pyle said. "We got it right in the crease and Scheller knew where to be at the right time.
"We did some things tonight, you can see when we're playing that way, we're pretty good."
Colton Fretter and Contois assisted on the tally, but it was Contois that really put the dagger into the Everblades.
Contois, who had the game-winner against Florida on Friday night, latched onto the puck in the neutral zone while Gwinnett was short-handed. The fleet-footed rookie burst up the wing and put a low shot on net.
The puck trickled under Shantz slowly enough that Contois had time to turn and watch it slide over the goal line at 6:38.
The Everblades spoiled Turple's shutout bid with a power-play goal by Derek Damon at 9:48, but that was the only shot to get past the rookie netminder.
"Turps really stepped up his game up lately and it's huge," Pyle said. "You've got to have guys stepping it up when they can."