North Charleston, SC – The Atlanta Gladiators began a five-game road trip on Sunday afternoon with a divisional matchup against the South Carolina Stingrays at the North Charleston Coliseum. Justin MacDonald powered the offense for the Glads, with a goal and two assists, giving the visitors their second victory in a row after scoring three late goals in the third.
The Gladiators got off to a quick start by taking a 1-0 lead just 1:36 into the opening frame. After the puck was knocked loose in the corner, MacDonald picked it up to the left of the net and then skated across the crease where he backhanded a shot over the glove of South Carolina goalie, Jeff Jakaitis. The tally was the Ontario native’s 15th goal of the season.
South Carolina responded at the 11:04 mark of the first period to tie the game at 1-1. Cameron Bakker took control of the puck in his defensive zone and chipped it out to Grant Besse near the far blue-line. The former Anaheim Ducks draft pick then skated the puck into the zone where he stickhandled past a defender and wristed a backhand shot into the far corner for his 22nd goal on the year.
After neither team found the back of the net in the middle frame, South Carolina struck at the 13:22 mark of the third to take a 2-1 lead. Besse and Jonathan Charbonneau skated down the ice and worked on a give-and-go before they dropped it back to Mike Chen. The trailing defender ripped a shot past Michael Bitzer for his third of the year.
Just over a minute of playing time later, the Gladiators responded to tie the game 2-2. Zach Malatesta kept the puck in the zone at the point and sent a pass to MacDonald, who then skated towards the net and took a shot. Filip Pyrochta then found the rebound and poked the puck into the goal for his second of the season.
The visitors then retook the lead with a power play goal at the 16:41 mark of the third period. After Jakaitis made a pad save on a shot from MacDonald, Nick Bligh controlled the rebound to the left of the net and pushed in a shot for his team-leading 16th of the year. Derek Nesbitt added the secondary assist in his 900th career pro game on the late go-ahead goal.
Atlanta would seal the victory with an empty net goal from Joel Messner from his own zone. Michael Bitzer made key saves down the stretch to earn his third-straight win between the pipes for the Glads. With the two points, Atlanta moves to within five points of the final playoff spot in the South Division with games in hand on all team’s ahead of them in the standings.
Up next, the Gladiators will continue their road trip as they travel west to South Dakota for three games against the Rapid City Rush. The first matchup between the two teams is Wednesday, February 20th at 9:05 pm Eastern time at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center; the Glads first-ever trip to the Black Hills.