DULUTH -- Andy Brandt scored two goals, including the coffin-nailing empty-netter, and the Gwinnett Gladiators beat Cincinnati by a narrow 3-1 margin Wednesday.
A sparse but vocal crowd of 2,874 saw the Gladiators collect their third straight two-goal win over the Cyclones, who sit on the playoff bubble. Cincinnati is clinging to the Eastern Conference's eighth and final postseason berth.
The Gladiators, meanwhile, remain at the top of the conference standings after their seventh straight victory. The Cyclones lost 2-0 here Saturday and play in Gwinnett again Friday.
"They're a good team and they're a desperate team," Brandt said. "It's a team we don't take lightly. They've got a lot of skill. The D-corps is strong. Both goaltenders are solid. We don't look at them as an eighth-place team."
Not matching Cincinnati's verve out of the gate, the Gladiators (37-17-7-4, 85 points) found themselves in a 1-0 hole.
Recently added Cyclone Jonathan Hazen walked around defenseman Dallas Jackson, who just returned from the AHL, and snapped a point-blank wrister past goalie Marc Cheverie at 7:19.
"That team, they're ready to go," head coach John Wroblewski said. "They were ready to play. They get that first one and they're hungry. If they get that next one, if you let that momentum continue, that's a dangerous combination.
"So our response was huge."
Gwinnett pulled even with a precision slap shot from captain Paul Flache as its first power play expired. Flache wound up and blistered a shot past goalie Brian Foster's glove. The puck found the far top corner and rang around the inside of the net at 10:08.
"He stepped up," Brandt said. "They had a guy coming out of the box and they jumped into the hole in the right spot. He got a great pass from (Justin) Milo and it was a beautiful shot."
The Gladiators carried that momentum through to the second and kept firing away at Cincinnati (29-24-2-7, 67 points). The pressure paid off late in the period with a go-ahead goal by Brandt at 17:09. Brandt scooped a backhander in from a steep angle.
Tucked just inside the post, Brandt's 14th goal of the season was assisted by Jordan Foreman, who worked over David MacDonald in a first-period fight, and Jacob Drewiske. It was Drewiske's first professional point after joining the team a week ago after the completion of his senior season at St. Lawrence University.
"That one was a really impressive goal," Wroblewski said. "Drewiske played by far his best game with us. He had a tremendous game and it all started with him creating the turnover with a good stick and body position.
"He finds Foreman out there in the slot. He has really impressed Rick (Emmett, assistant coach) and I with his overall vision and how to control a hockey game. He was right there to find Brando pretty much immediately with a slick pass. Then Brando obviously made no mistake."
Heading into the final intermission, Gwinnett was outshooting the Cyclones 25-12 and carried the 2-1 lead.
"I don't think the shots were really reflective of the way the game was paced," Wroblewski said. "Cincinnati did a real nice job establishing themselves today. We were never comfortable in that game. They had stretches where they controlled the play.
"But I thought we were very good in our structure tonight and I thought our stick detail was excellent. The guys overall, with their positioning and reaction time, were very good. When Cincinnati did have time and space to create, we were ready to react accordingly and take that away."
The Gladiators shut out Cincinnati for the third, including the last 1:50 on the penalty kill with Foster pulled for a 6-on-4 situation. Brandt's empty-netter, on a pass from Milo, sealed the win with six seconds left. Defenseman Sean Duddy got the other assist in his first pro game out of Ohio State.
"We have a workman-like attitude," Brandt said. "We realize that being on top comes with a target. It's something to be proud of, but at the same time, when you've got that target on your back, you've got to work harder.
"I think everybody in that locker room realizes the work we have ahead of us. In order to stay where we are, we have to bring it every single night."