DULUTH, GA – In the midst of a six-game point streak, the Gladiators continued the five-game homestand with their I-85 rivals, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, in town. Nesbitt led the way with a multi-point night, while Sean Bonar stopped all 20 shots he faced en route to his third shutout of the season as the Gladiators continued their hot streak with a 4-0 victory.
Both teams started a bit sluggish at Infinite Energy Arena, but all in attendance (including those on the ice) were jolted awake when Greenville’s Luke Ripley laid a tough hit on forward Brett McKenzie in neutral ice. Nolan LaPorte came to his teammate’s defense, but it was McKenzie earning the penalty. After killing the Swamp Rabbits’ power play, the home team saw an uptick in offensive pressure. Greenville’s goaltender, Garrett Bartus, had been perfect while facing an onslaught of shots, but it was recently-acquired Dan Leavens that vanquished his scoreless start. Joel Messner fed Nesbitt on the far-side half boards, where the Seaforth, ON native sent a wrist shot on goal. The save rebounded to Leavens in the crease, and the Thornhill, ON resident shuttled the puck beyond Bartus to lift Atlanta to a 1-0 lead with 3:06 remaining in the opening frame.
Atlanta kept up the pressure through the middle of the second period, weathering the Greenville surge. Their best chances mirrored the offensive zone sequences that produced the first period tally, but Bartus elevated his game in the middle frame. On three separate occasions, certain scoring opportunities were stopped by magnificent saves from the Swamp Rabbits’ goaltender.
The Gladiators added various chances with precise passing and well-timed shots, but it was an odd-man rush sparked by none other than Atlanta goaltender Bonar to get the Glads on the board once again. After a stick save, he dished the puck to Justin MacDonald in neutral ice before the Newmarket, ON native found Nesbitt breaking in on a 2-on-1. Nesbitt dished the puck through the crease in an attempt to find Nick Bligh. The pass slipped underneath Bartus and caromed across the goal line to double Atlanta’s lead on a power play goal with only :74 seconds to play in the second period.
The Gladiators continued to increase the onslaught of opportunities on the reeling Swamp Rabbits in the final frame. After Adam Larkin’s tripping penalty, the potent Atlanta power play took aim at Bartus for the fourth time on the evening. For the third occasion, they capitalized on the man-advantage. Joe Widmar won a faceoff to Olivier Galipeau at the blue line. Galipeau walked the puck to the center point before feeding LaPorte at the top of the near-side circle. The Chicago, IL native launched a one-timer that blew past Bartus to negate any chance of a Greenville rally with 9:42 to play in the game.
LaPorte added a late empty-net goal to seal the dominating 4-0 victory for Atlanta. Bonar secured his third shutout of the year and added his second career assist as the Glads got back to their winning ways after an OT loss Saturday night. The win extends the point streak to seven games and lifts the Gladiators to 35 points on the season with their seventh victory in their last eight games.
Atlanta hosts Florida tomorrow night, at 7:35 PM at Infinite Energy Arena for the seventh of 11 matchups with the Everblades.