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Gladiators on season-high winning streak

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

DULUTH — Trenton went to work on the power play just 11 seconds into a tied third period.

But Akim Aliu intercepted a puck inside the Gwinnett blue line, spun and charged up the right wing.

Devils' defenseman Martin Nolet was abreast of Aliu in the neutral zone, but fell to his knees and Aliu was gone.

The Atlanta Thrashers' prospect cruised in on a 2-on-0 breakaway with Andy Brandt to his left. Aliu drew the puck to his backhand and banked it in off Devils' goalie Dave Caruso for a short-handed unassisted goal at 1:18.

His second goal of the night stood up for the rest of the period and the Gladiators gutted out a 4-3 victory Sunday.

Gwinnett extended its winning streak to a season-high six games and kept pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

“We faced a little adversity and it's nice to see the boys come through after going into the third period tied,” Aliu said. “It's huge for our confidence. We weren't doing well two, three weeks ago and now hopefully we can get a playoff spot.”

Head coach Jeff Pyle was happy to get the win, but disappointed with how hard it was to come by after leading in the first and second periods.

“We weren't very good at times,” Pyle said. “We were sloppy. They had two goals, the first one and the third one, that we just gave away because we don't take pride in getting pucks in and out. That can't happen when you're in a playoff race.

“I thought Rozzi saved the game for us.”

The Devils burst out of the gates and put Gwinnett goalie Chris Carrozzi under heavy pressure from the opening puck drop.

The Gladiators failed to muster even a shot on goal for nearly 12 minutes.

During that time, Trenton grabbed a 1-0 lead. Trevor Kell roofed a rebound from on top of the crease at 8:03. But it could have been much worse.

“It's not that we don't work hard, it's just we get sloppy and we accept it,” Pyle said. “I can't live with it.

“I'm just disappointed that we didn't come out better. I thought (Trenton) worked extremely hard and played really well. We got the breaks at the right time.”

Gwinnett got a chance to get going a couple of minutes after the Devils scored when Dan Charleston was called for boarding and unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Gladiators finally put some rubber on net on the first power play, but Caruso stoned them on excellent back-to-back shots.

Caruso, who played in Gwinnett as a rookie and grew up in Roswell, couldn't get to the next one.

Aliu fired a cross-crease pass from deep in the left corner to Pat Galivan on the far post. Galivan hammered it home to tie the game at 12:56.

A little more than 90 seconds later, the Gladiators took a 2-1 lead.

Dustin Cameron chipped the puck to Brandt on the doorstep. Brandt settled the bouncing puck going forehand to backhand and lifted it top shelf despite the steep angle at 14:32. Brandt thrust both arms in the air and leaped against the glass in celebration.

The Devils had premium opportunity to get even late in the first. Matt Vokes was alone above the crease with the puck and time. He waited to shoot, trying to freeze Carrozzi, but the rookie netminder didn't bite. Carrozzi knocked away the shot and kept Gwinnett ahead.

Vokes might have missed, but teammate Ryan Ginand didn't.

Vokes sprung him on a breakaway with a long stretch pass and Ginand buried it at 11:34 of the second period to tie it 2-2.

“We see what kills us and we still continue to do it,” Pyle said. “That's what is frustrating.”

The Gladiators got back in front, scoring seconds after a power play ended at 16:52.

Trenton had a chance to clear the puck, but instead gave it right to Michael Forney on the half wall. The rebound from Forney's shot kicked into the slot where Cameron jumped on it.

Ginand's second goal of the game drew the Devils even again, also just as a penalty expired at 19:29.

But Aliu's short-handed unassisted goal salvaged the two points for Gwinnett.

“We're not going to win a lot come playoff time, if we make it, doing that type of stuff,” Pyle said. “But they've been working so hard to put themselves in position, I just don't want to see them fail.”