Rapid City, SD – The Atlanta Gladiators finished their three-game trip to South Dakota with a 4-2 loss at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Saturday night. Despite controlling much of the offensive pressure late in the game, the Gladiators could not overcome the three-goal deficit they faced after the opening frame.
The home side took the first lead of the contest with 8:28 remaining in the opening period. Chris Leibinger controlled the puck in the offensive zone and skated to the front of the net to wrist a shot on goal. After Michael Bitzer was able to fight off the first chance, Zach Fischer collected the rebound and fired a shot into the net to give Rapid City a 1-0 lead.
With just 2:25 left in the first, Rapid City found the back of the net again to increase their lead to 2-0. Fischer brought the puck through the neutral zone and attempted to dump it into the zone, however, the puck instead ricocheted off the skate of the linesman and landed on the stick of Leibinger. The Michigan native had a shot blocked, but Darby Llewellyn took the rebound and buried it in the back of the net for his sixth goal of the year.
Rapid City struck again in the final minute of the opening frame to take a 3-0 lead. Fischer netted his second goal of the game on the play after his backhand shot slid through Bitzer and crossed the goal line. Both Dylan Quaile and Richard Coyne were credited with an assist on the power-play goal.
After a slow start to the game, Atlanta came out of the gates flying early in the second period and upped the offensive pressure. After three different shots rang off the post in one shift, Nick Bligh finally broke the barrier and got the visitors on the board just 1:31 into the second. Joe Widmar bounced on a rebound in the offensive zone and then sent a pass back to Filip Pyrochta at the point. The rookie defender then wound up for a shot but instead made a slap-pass to Bligh at the backdoor, where he fired home his team-leading 18th goal of the season.
The Gladiators continued to control the offensive tempo as the game wore on and were able to tally with 6:01 left in the third period to bring the score to 3-2. Zach Malatesta held the puck at the point in the offensive zone and sent a pass across the blue line to Pyrochta. The Czech defender wristed a shot on net that was saved, however, Matt Lane found the rebound and sent a shot into the top corner of the goal for his fifth with Atlanta.
Atlanta was able to outshoot the Rush twenty to three in the final frame, but it was not enough, as Cedric Montminy put a shot into the empty net with :28 seconds remaining to seal the 4-2 victory for the home side.
Up next, the Gladiators will return back to South Division action as they travel to Jacksonville for a meeting with the Icemen on February 27th. Puck drop between Atlanta and Jacksonville is scheduled for 7:00 pm at the Veterans Memorial Arena on Wednesday night.