DULUTH, GA – The Gladiators have been on a hot streak as of late, but they’ve faced no tougher test than the league-leading Everblades who looked to advance a lengthy winning streak at the Infinite Energy Arena. Atlanta got an early tally from Olivier Galipeau and some insurance from Derek Nesbitt in the second as the Glads held on for an exciting 2-1 win, their first victory on home ice over Florida since October 23rd, 2015.
The home side jumped on the visiting Everblades from the start, in terms of energy, despite playing just 24 hours earlier. Atlanta capitalized on the early momentum with a tally less than five minutes into the contest. Defenseman Zach Malatesta, playing forward on a line with Alex Overhardt and Dan Leavens on this evening, delivered a board-rattling hit to carom the puck to the Atlanta blue line. Olivier Galipeau gathered it there before sending a hard shot on goal. His blast soared past the stick side of Florida goaltender, Jamie Phillips, to give the Gladiators an early 1-0 lead.
Florida began to show why they are the top team in the division, and the entire ECHL, as they racked up offensive chances. Near the middle of the period, they rang the crossbar after beating Sean Bonar. Then, a defensive breakdown led to a short-handed breakaway chance for the Everblades, prevented by a poke check from Bonar. While the ‘Blades continued to pressure, they could not break through in the second period.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the Everblades on their first power play of the night and seemed to set up the powerhouse division leaders for a game-tying tally. Brian Cooper, continuing to shine in his time in Atlanta, made a brilliant defensive play to steal the puck and spark a short-handed attack. He skated into the offensive zone before finding Derek Nesbitt on his left. The veteran’s initial shot was stopped by Phillips, but the rebound came right back to Nesbitt’s stick. His second chance found the back of the net to double Atlanta’s lead with 2:53 to play in the middle frame.
After another flurry of chances from Florida, the Everblades broke through for the first time in the game. Blake Winiecki won a puck battle on the near-side wall before saucering a pass through the slot. Matt Finn was on the end of that pass, and his one-timer ended Bonar’s shutout bid. The tally cut the lead in half with just over eleven minutes to play in the game.
Down the stretch, Florida only increased their intensity. The final three minutes consisted of a hectic frenzy in the Blades’ offensive zone. Despite endless chances for Florida, and an empty Florida net in the final two minutes, Bonar and the Atlanta defense held on for the thrilling 2-1 victory. The win gives the Gladiators two wins in their last three contests against the Everblades while extending Atlanta’s point streak to eight games. The triumph brings Atlanta to 37 points, just eight points out of the final playoff position.
That aforementioned final playoff spot is held by the Orlando Solar Bears, and that is who the Gladiators host Saturday night at 7:35 PM for Super Saturday / $5 Frenzy Jersey Night presented by OrthoAtlanta.