The Atlanta Gladiators returned to action for their final home stand of the regular season as they welcomed the Orlando Solar Bears to the Infinite Energy Arena on Friday night. Two-goals in less than a minute late in the third made the difference for the Gladiators as they took the thrilling 4-3 victory.
Atlanta opened the game’s scoring with a power play tally just 1:45 into the first period. Brady Vail won the faceoff in the offensive zone and pushed the puck back to Joe Gatenby. The rookie defender then fired a shot towards net that was redirected in by Taylor Stefishen for his eighth goal of the season.
Orlando then brought the score even at 1-1 with a power play goal of their own at the 18:30 mark of the first. J.J. Piccinich fired a shot towards net that was blocked by the shoulder of Dan Vladar and bounced high into the air. After the puck landed on the ice, Chris Crane whipped his stick around and knocked it into the back of the net for his 11th goal of the year.
The Solar Bears then made the score 2-1 to take their first lead of the night at the 15:11 mark of the second period. Winquist took control of the puck off a turnover in his offensive zone and skated around the slot to the side of the net. There he made a move around Vladar and left a pass for Crane, who tapped in the loose puck for his second goal of the game.
The Gladiators struck once again on the power play 6:35 into the third period to knot the score at 2-2. Josh Atkinson, who returned to the lineup after missing 31 games with an injury, corralled the puck in the high slot and faked a shot towards net before he sent a pass to the near circle. There, Zach Todd blasted a one-time shot into the open net for his first professional goal. Alex Rauter tallied the secondary assist on the tying goal.
With just under seven minutes left to play in the third period, Orlando struck to retake the lead at 3-2. Mike Monfredo received a pass at the point and sent a quick wrist shot over the shoulder of Vladar for his seventh goal of the year. Crane notched his third point of the game with an assist on the play.
Less than three minutes later, Atlanta scored to tie the game at 3-3 at the 15:39 mark. Jack Stander brought the puck into the offensive zone and drew two defenders down low. He then dropped a pass towards the net, where Stephen Pierog knocked the puck past Mackenzie Skapski for his seventh of the year. Gatenby picked up his second helper of the night with an assist on Pierog’s goal.
Just :58 seconds of playing time later, the Gladiators found the back of the net again to take a 4-3 lead. Rauter knocked the puck loose from a scrum on the boards and sent a pass to Eric Shand at the point. The San Dimas, CA native then fired a shot that was blocked by the pad of Skapski, however, Atkinson corralled the rebound in front and buried a shot for his fourth of the season.
With the win at home, Atlanta improved to 32-34-2-3 with 69 points and finished the season with a 6-2 record against the Solar Bears. Meanwhile, Orlando dropped to 33-29-6-3 with 75 points.
Up next, Atlanta will conclude the regular season with a matchup at home against Greenville tomorrow night. Puck drop between the Gladiators and Swamp Rabbits is scheduled for 7:05pm at the Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday evening.