Despite remaining tied for most of the contest and a 39 save performance from goalie Dan Vladar, the Atlanta Gladiators allowed four goals in the final frame and fell to the Florida Everblades by a score of 7-2 at Germain Arena on Friday night.
The Everblades would open the scoring 12:12 into the first period. Josh Wesley netted his fifth goal of the season after he wristed a shot from the right point that snuck through a bevy of bodies in front of the net and beat Atlanta goalie, Dan Vladar through his legs. Both Mike Ferrantino and Matt Berry tallied an assist on the opening goal.
Atlanta would bring the game back even just over two minutes later. Rory Rawlyk carried the puck out of the defensive zone and sent a lead pass up to Eric Neiley at the right-side boards. The Dartmouth product then whipped the puck towards the front of the net, where Tyler Murovich was knocked to his knees but still managed stickhandle forehand-backhand and find the back of the net. The Gladiators' alternate captain’s 16th goal of the season made it 1-1 at the 14:30 mark of the opening frame.
Florida would regain their lead 9:26 into the second period. After Logan Roe corralled the puck for the Everblades, he sent a pass up the ice to Dalton Smith. The Ontario native then continued down the ice on a two-on-one and delivered a pass to Adam Brace, who blasted a one-timer past Vladar for his seventh goal of the year.
The Gladiators then answered with their own goal just under :90 seconds later. Derek Nesbitt tallied a goal for the third game in a row for Atlanta after he beat Florida goalie, Anthony Peters on the glove side for his 21st of the year. Justin Buzzeo and Thomas Frazee were each credited with an assist on the goal that tied the game at 2-2, 10:42 into the second period.
The home team would continue the back-and-forth nature of the game and gain their third lead of the contest 16:52 into the middle frame. Brendan O’Donnell scored his team-high 30th goal of the year with a quick shot on a breakaway that defeated Vladar on the short side. Brant Harris added his name to the scoresheet on the goal that put Florida ahead 3-2.
Florida doubled their lead with a power-play tally only :41 seconds into the third period. Stephen MacAulay was able to score his third goal of the season with a quick wrist shot from the top of the right circle that floated over the shoulder of Atlanta’s goaltender. Harris and Berry each doubled their point total with an assist on the goal that put the home team ahead 4-2.
Only :71 seconds after the power play goal, the Everblades found the net again to go ahead 5-2 just 1:52 into the third. Clark Bishop picked up the goal for Florida after he unleashed a bomb from the high slot that sailed over the left shoulder of Vladar. Nelson Armstrong was credited with the lone assist on Bishop’s third of the year.
Florida would add another insurance tally 10:58 into the third to gain a 6-2 advantage. O’Donnell found the net for his second of the night, and 31st of the year, while Harris tallied his third helper of the night on the play. John McCarron added his name to the scoresheet with the secondary assist.
Harris would then score the second power play goal of the game for the Everblades to give his team a 7-2 lead, while he picked up his fourth point of the game. The goal came at 12:19 into the final period, and was assisted by O’Donnell and Wesley, who notched their third and second points of the night respectively.
The loss dropped Atlanta to 21-26-6-2 on the year and kept the Gladiators in sixth in the South Division with 50 points. Florida increased their lead in first in the division with the win that put them at 37-12-2-3 and gave the Everblades 79 points.