DULUTH -- The Gwinnett Gladiators took leads early in all three periods and made the third time a charm.
Doug Jones' goal at 4:22 of the third, capping a pretty passing play with Casey Pierro-Zabotel, stood as the winner in a 5-2 victory over Greenville on Saturday.
Jones pushed a bouncing puck from center ice over to Pierro-Zabotel on the wing. Pierro-Zabotel carried the puck down the boards and centered it back to Jones. The Marietta native banged it under goalie Bryan Hince to put Gwinnett ahead for good and send a kid-filled Arena at Gwinnett Center into a high-pitched frenzy.
"I was just trying to get it over to him," Jones said. "I was a little nervous that it wasn't going to make it. I was just trying to get it to him and go to the net."
Pierro-Zabotel doubled the lead with a penalty-shot goal midway through the final period. Evan Bloodoff iced it with a redirection of captain Andy Brandt's shot at 13:17.
"It was a combined effort -- everybody was going tonight," Jones said. "Everybody was getting to the net and, eventually, when you're getting that many opportunities and going to the net hard, you're going to be rewarded."
The win, their second in as many days over Greenville, extended Gwinnett's lead at the top of the South Division. The Gladiators, who had a season-high 8,177 on hand for the first of two home games this weekend, also remain in first place in the Eastern Conference. They play Trenton today at 4:05 p.m.
"We came out the way we wanted to and it's tough, when you start that way, for a team to have to continuously come back and match your style of pay," Jones said.
Getting to the gritty area, John Scrymgeour provided the Gladiators (17-6-1-0, 35 points) with a 1-0 lead 6:26 into the game.
Gwinnett's first power play expired without real threat, but shortly after, the puck slid to an open area inside the Road Warriors blue line. Defenseman Corey Fienhage stepped into the shot and Hince didn't smother the rebound. Scrymgeour was on the doorstep, pulled the puck back and ripped it into the far open side of the net.
A bench minor to Gwinnett for too many men on the ice gave Greenville's power play a chance to work late in the first period. Despite a fairly average conversion rate this season, the Road Warriors tied it at 16:05 on Francis Verreault's shot from the far side of the faceoff circle. Verreault's low slap shot thunked into the far corner, going across goalie Louis Domingue cleanly. It was one of just three shots on goal for Greenville (13-8-1-1, 28 points) in the first 20 minutes.
The Gladiators regained their lead 6:16 into the second period. Defenseman Kyle Lawson took a good shot from the boards below the blue line. Rylan Galiardi was in position above Hince and deflected the waist-high shot into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead.
But Greenville once again pulled even late in the period, capitalizing on a defensive gaffe. Brandon Wong skated in on a breakaway. Domingue missed on a poke check attempt and Wong adroitly slipped the puck through his legs at 17:04.
"Our defensemen did very well in the corners," Jones said. "They were hard to play against. Our penalty kill was good. But, yeah, they have good, skilled forwards that will cash in at some point if you give them chances."
Jones' ninth goal of the season pushed Gwinnett back in front 3-2 and Pierro-Zabotel scored on the penalty shot. Pierro-Zabotel was sprung on a home-run pass from Dallas Jackson and then hauled down by Greenville's T.J. Reynolds. Pierro-Zabotel rang his shot off the near post, around the inside of the net and clipped the far post on its way back out at 10:55.