DULUTH - Led by two goals from Matt Siddall, the Gwinnett Gladiators defeated Charlotte for the second straight game and got within one point of the Checkers in the division standings.
The Gladiators collected a 4-1 win before a large and enthusiastic crowd of 7,961 on Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. It was the first consecutive victory for either team in this season series and gets the Gladiators on a winning streak for the first time in over two weeks.
"I love it," Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle said. "That was fun to watch. The power play, we only scored once, but we're moving it around and it was great tonight.
"That's as disciplined as we've played all year right there. And the job by Siddall and by (Jordan) Fox, doing little things that they haven't consistently done through the season that we need them to do. The fight by (Myles) Stoesz, just the energy that everybody brought and the roles that everybody played, it was a great team effort."
Gwinnett (20-20-5) is one point behind Charlotte (22-20-2) for third place in the ECHL South. The Gladiators have a couple days off before heading to Mississippi on Tuesday for another big division matchup.
"The season is a little more than half over and every one of these games against the teams above you are huge," Siddall said. "Especially playing at home, we had a great crowd. Just coming out for warmups, we were jacked up and we were pumped to see all the fans out. You can't ask for any more. That's one of the best Saturday night wins I've felt we've had. It was awesome."
The power play continued to click after converting three times in Charlotte on Thursday. The Gladiators had been ineffective working with the man advantage lately, but Pat Bateman said Friday that a corner had been turned.
He proved himself very right, scoring the first goal Saturday just 11 seconds into Gwinnett's first power play. Bateman was on the spot to clean up some garbage in front, lifting a rebound over Jeff Jakaitis at 9:00 of the first period.
"Our power play had been on and off, but right now, the unit with Dirk Southern and Jordan Fox and Pat Bateman, with big (Brennan) Turner up there on the point taking shots, that's been a great power play," Siddall said. "They've been doing the little things well. They've been winning their battles.
"You don't have to score on every power play, but if you're able to set it up the way they are, it creates some chances. That creates momentum for the team, for the next line and it tires out their best players."
The Gladiators protected that 1-0 lead until Siddall got loose on a breakaway and doubled their margin.
Siddall stepped in front of a pass near the blue line in Gwinnett's zone and hit the accelerator. He had Travis Fuller breaking with him on the left wing and used the odd-man rush to advantage. Siddall kept his eye on Fuller and caused Jakaitis to cheat out a little before scoring on a surgically-placed shot at 15:06 of the second period.
Siddall potted his 10th goal of the season, unassisted, by picking the far top corner just inside the iron.
"Two-on-one, once you get over the blue line you're kind of making up your mind," Siddall said. "I was just trying to read what the D-man was doing and he kind of played a bit more over to Fullsie.
"I wanted to give him the puck. He's got a great shot and that's a guaranteed goal. But instead you just bury your head and I saw a little twine and you get lucky every now and then."
Charlotte got within a goal at 5:59 of the third period. No one stepped up to cover Ethan Graham coming over Gwinnett's blue line and the defenseman rifled a shot past goalie Joe Fallon. It was only the second goal of the season for Graham, but the Gladiators answered soon after.
Siddall scored his second goal of the game on a second effort. The rookie forward tapped his own rebound over a falling Jakaitis at 8:00.
Siddall had a chance at a hat trick with an empty net, but collected an assist when he cleared the zone and Adam Berti salted away a key victory at 19:16.
"Right now you see how tight everything is, every point is huge," Pyle said. "You've got a chance at second, you have a chance to miss the playoffs. You've got to be sharp every night. You can't give anything away.
"The effort on the road in Charlotte was good. But tonight, the way we controlled the corners, the 'D' played great with only five of them and the forwards helped out a lot by making sure we kept pucks deep. We did a lot of things well. I just hope it soaks in to those guys because Tuesday's game in Mississippi is huge."