DULUTH, GA - The Gladiators returned to home ice looking to turn their fortunes around in front of the home faithful as they hosted the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Atlanta had the lead in the third but gave up two late goals to give the visitors the victory on Wednesday night.
Atlanta survived some early pressure from the visiting Swamp Rabbits. The home team saw a shot off the crossbar and a deflected attempt just inches past an open corner of the net. The Glads were awarded back-to-back slashing penalties, forcing the Gladiators into a 5-on-3 penalty kill for over a minute. Despite the chances, the home side kept Greenville off the scoreboard.
The Gladiators endured four first-period penalties without surrendering a goal, but it was the Atlanta power play that gave them the early leg up. After Greenville’s Stephen Pierog went to the penalty box for slashing at the 6:31 mark, Dave Mazurek fed Nolan LaPorte in the far-side corner. LaPorte, freshly returned from injury, found an opportunistic Brett McKenzie on the back-side of Greenville goaltender Chris Nell just :09 seconds into the man-advantage for his seventh goal of the season.
The Swamp Rabbits rebounded in the middle frame, finding a game-tying goal at the 15:20 mark of the period. Chad Duschene’s wrister from the half boards found Adam Larkin in front of the net. A wacky bounce went off of Thomas Ebbing, and deflected off of a Glads defender’s skate to find the tying goal.
Both teams managed to escape precarious situations in front of their nets in the second period. Atlanta twice found Greenville defenders scrambling to save a puck inches from the goal line, only to see it cleared. Meanwhile the visitors had a shot on goal that deflected around a scrambling Colton Phinney. The Rabbits had a wide open chance to take the lead, only to have Atlanta defender Kyle Chatham stick his leg out to save Phinney at the last moment.
Atlanta was glad to have defenseman Olivier Galipeau back after his stint in the AHL with the Providence Bruins. He took a blue line shot just :32 seconds into the third period that was deflected by Nick Bligh at the edge of the crease to beat Nell and give the Gladiators the lead. For Bligh, it was his first goal in an Atlanta uniform, just one game after his first Gladiators point, an assist at Orlando this past Sunday.
Greenville refused to go quietly, as they rallied to tie the game with 6:44 to play in the third period. Larkin, already with an assist, battled multiple Atlanta defenders in a scrum on the near-side half boards. He dished the puck to Johno May in the crease. He beat Phinney with a quick one-timer to tie the game at two.
Atlanta temporarily retook the lead just moments later, only to have the go-ahead goal overturned on a goaltender interference call. The game remained tied at two.
Instead, the visitors kept up their momentum and pressured Phinney and the Gladiators’ defense. A shot on goal was saved by the diving goaltender before Michael Pelech fed Will Merchant for point-blank range chance. Merchant found the back of the net and gave the Rabbits their first lead of the night with 5:24 to play.
Atlanta put up heavy pressure late but could not find the equalizer and fell to Greenville by the score of 3-2. Atlanta’s woes continue as their point total remains at 16. Greenville remains just one stop ahead of the Gladiators with the win to improve to six games under .500.
Atlanta continues the home-stand with the first of back-to-back games tomorrow night against the Jacksonville Icemen at the Infinite Energy Arena at 7:35 pm.