DULUTH - The Gwinnett Gladiators looked like a different team in the finale of the two-game homestand against the South Carolina Stingrays, winning 5-2 in front of a full house of 8,123 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
The victory came on the heels of a tough 6-1 loss the night before.
"You can see the energy in the crowd helps," head coach Jeff Pyle said. "The guys love playing for the crowd."
Gwinnett went 4-for-7 on the power play, which is a big improvement over the 14.3 percent rate it carried into the game. The Gladiators did it by changing the setup of the forwards on the man-advantage.
"We adjusted a few things to be more aggressive towards the net," Pyle said. "That puts us in a position to be able to shoot more and be there for rebounds and deflections. Be less spread out."
Team confidence also helped, as did starting the game with cool Joe Fallon in net - though he might have made some different choices leading to the first Stingrays goal.
In the first period on an expiring penalty kill, Fallon opted to cover a puck behind the goal line, setting up a defensive-zone draw. A shot came from the faceoff circle which slipped past Fallon to the paint behind him. A defenseman was there but could not prevent Maxime Lacroix from jumping on it for the goal.
The Gladiators scored a power-play goal of their own near the end of the period, with Dirk Southern roofing a rebound past netminder Jonathan Boutin for the goal.
The second period was a strong one for Gwinnett, scoring two surprising goals. Adam Berti skated up the middle on a rush and was defended well by Scott Romfo, but Berti's momentum took him into the goal crease, and the puck came with him. It appeared to go off of Berti's skate and under Boutin. Berti said afterward he thought Brandon Kaleniecki might have actually touched it last.
The third Gladiators' goal exploited a weak moment by the Stingrays. Berti passed to Tom Zanoski at the goal line, who threw it at the net and snuck it in short side.
"We're using the low guy a little more (on the power play)," Berti said. "Pop it out by the net instead of being behind the goal line. Try to shoot from that position. Z's goal tonight, he shot it right away because the goalie was kind of off the post."
South Carolina scored in the second period as well, on a nice pass from behind the net out to a trailer in the slot. Fallon had no chance.
The Gladiators added some cushion in the third period, with Kaleniecki scoring the team's fourth goal on a pass from Andy Brandt on some quick puck movement on a power play.
Jordan Fox made it 5-2 off a takeaway in the neutral zone. He skated in and out-deked Boutin.
With the win, Gwinnett remains ahead of the idle Mississippi Sea Wolves in the South Division standings. The Gladiators have just four games left in which to solidify the last remaining playoff spot. Winning these games is important to the team, even if Mississippi loses.
"You don't want to make the playoffs by losing your last seven or whatever," Pyle said. "There's still an opportunity for us to finish at .500 or better. I want the guys to understand the way we played tonight we need to do every night."
SideBar: GLADIATORS 5, STINGRAYS 2
First Period - 1, South Carolina, Lacroix 32 (Romfo, Morin), 6:22 (pp). 2, Gwinnett, Southern 12 (Fox, Bateman), 15:03 (pp). Penalties - Bateman Gwt (interference), 1:27; Kashirsky SC (hooking), 10:00; Messier SC (tripping), 14:03.
Second Period - 3, Gwinnett, Berti 12 (Kaleniecki, Marchesi), 2:16 (pp). 4, South Carolina, O'Brien 17 (Corey, Lacroix), 6:27 (pp). 5, Gwinnett, Zanoski 9 (Sawyer, Berti), 10:58 (pp). Penalties - Wellar SC (interference), 1:07; Gentile Gwt (hooking), 4:31; Morin SC (hooking), 9:25; Looby Gwt (hooking), 16:08; Kiser SC (roughing), 20:00; Lacroix SC (slashing), 20:00; Sawyer Gwt (roughing), 20:00.
Third Period - 6, Gwinnett, Kaleniecki 10 (Turner, Brandt), 5:06 (pp). 7, Gwinnett, Fox 26 (unassisted) 18:35. Penalties - Carbery Sc (tripping), 3:16; Romfo SC (cross-checking), 6:27; Berti Gwt (holding), 12:46.
Shots on Goal - South Carolina 11-6-10-27. Gwinnett 13-13-6-32.
Power-play opportunities - South Carolina 2 of 4; Gwinnett 4 of 7.
Goalies - South Carolina, Boutin 22-10-1-2 (32 shots-27 saves). Gwinnett, Fallon 17-11-1-1 (27 shots-25 saves).
A - 8,123