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Back in contention, Gladiators return home vs. Trenton

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

The Gwinnett Gladiators are riding a four-game winning streak that pushed them back into playoff contention.

The team is feeling good after picking up four wins, all on the road and all tightly contested.

“It was a great trip for us,” alternate captain Any Brandt said. “Right now we need every game we can get and to go on the road and take eight out of eight points is what we needed.

Home stand

Who: Gwinnett Gladiators vs. Trenton Devils

When: Today, Sunday

Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center

Schedule:

• Today, 7:05 p.m.

• Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

“They were all close games and that give us the confidence to know we can win those games. As we get closer and closer to the playoffs, those are the kind of games we’re going to play. There are a lot of teams vying for a spot and we’re right in the mix.”

But the Gladiators can always count on head coach Jeff Pyle to keep that confidence from turning into cockiness.

“Jeff reminds us every day that just because we won four in a row doesn’t mean anything,” Brandt said. “Because if we don’t continue to win, we’re going to be out of it.”

Pyle admitted he’s been hard on the team the last few days, trying to prevent them from letting off the gas pedal.

“I want to win,” Pyle said.

Gwinnett (26-25-2-5, 59 points) is among five teams battling for the last three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Even fifth-place Florida is just a handful of points ahead of that logjam.

It lends a playoff atmosphere to these last 14 games.

“That’s the mindset we want to create, that we’re in the hunt and we’re in the race,” Brandt said.

The standings change daily and trying to predict anything with a month left in the season would be a waste of time.

So neither Pyle or Brandt is focusing on it.

“Right now I look at our schedule,” Pyle said.

Gwinnett has a favorable schedule down the stretch, starting with tonight’s home game against Trenton.

“At this point, I don’t look at (the standings) a lot,” Brandt said. “I just say it’s in our own hands.”

The Gladiators beat the Devils in back-to-back one-goal games last weekend in New Jersey. The two teams play at 7:30 p.m. today and 4:05 p.m. Sunday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

“We’ve got a little bit of an advantage here — 10 of the 14 games are at home,” Brandt said. “Those are important. You’ve got to be smart and use it to rest up. But we know that if we don’t continue to win, the end will come quickly.”

The Gladiators missed the playoffs for the first time in their eight seasons here last year and it’s been a while since Pyle was this enthused in March.

“I’m kind of excited,” Pyle said. “First time in three years I’ve actually been excited this time of the year.”

Part of his excitement is because the team once again has some depth after a three-for-one trade with Reading last week.

All three players — forward Devin Timberlake, defenseman Dallas Jackson and goalie Bobby Jarosz — were all in Gwinnett for their first practice Friday.

Pyle said they fit in well.

“Timberlake works real hard,” Pyle said. “Jackson, he called me three minutes after (head coach) Larry (Courville) told him about the trade and said ‘I can’t wait to get there.’ That’s the mentality you want. The mentality is really positive.

“And Jarosz played real well today, too. It’s a security blanket to know you have depth in case you’re No. 1 goes down, you’ve got a guy that can do the job.”

Goalie Chris Carrozzi has a flight today back to Gwinnett from Chicago and the Gladiators may also get more help from above.

AHL affiliate Chicago and Peoria, where Derek Nesbitt has been since early November, are both on the playoff bubble. If one or both get pushed out of the race, players could be returned to Gwinnett.

“Maybe this year we get a few breaks and get a few guys back,” Pyle said. “I’ve thought of every scenario possible. Do we get everybody back? Do we get nobody back?

“If we get nobody back, that’s fine, too. If everything works out for Chicago and Peoria, that’s great. In the end, I’ve kind of prepared for everything and if those guys do come down, it’s going to be a sick team to watch.”