ESTERO, FL - The stretch run for a playoff spot continued with a road trip and an unwanted result Wednesday night in southwest Florida, as the Atlanta Gladiators fell 4-1 to the division-leading Florida Everblades. Despite the result, Atlanta sits just one point out of the final playoff spot with two games in hand on the South Carolina Stingrays.
The visiting Gladiators kept the high-flying home team off the board in the opening minutes, even leading in shots 6-4 before the Everblades were awarded the first power play opportunity of the night. 'Blades defenseman Derek Sheppard fed Kyle Platzer in front of Sean Bonar's crease before he deked and found the back of the net. The tally on the man-advantage gave the home team a 1-0 lead with 10:51 to play in the opening frame. Despite a flurry of chances for Atlanta in the waning second of the first period, they trailed by that same score after twenty minutes of play.
Atlanta held the shot lead into the middle period before an unfortunate :31-second stretch. Blake Winiecki and Patrick Bajkov fed Matt Finn for a tally that doubled the home team's lead with 13:18 to play in the second. As both teams settled in after the ensuing faceoff, Florida struck again. It was Nathan Perkovich for Florida lighting the lamp on consecutive shifts with 12:47 remaining in the middle frame to balloon the 'Blades lead to 3-0.
Atlanta began the final frame on the penalty kill as Florida held a 4-on-3 advantage. Perkovich struck again less than a minute into the third period. The tally gave Florida a 4-0 lead. The visiting Gladiators never quit down the stretch of the game. In the final minute, Atlanta was still determined to break up Jeremy Helvig's shutout bid. Nick Bligh and Justin MacDonald fed Nolan LaPorte on a brilliant display of passing before the Chicago, IL product buried the chance to get the Gladiators on the board with :26 seconds remaining.
The Glads continue this Sunshine State road trip Friday night against the Everblades in Estero. Atlanta returns to Infinite Energy Arena next week, including Hockey Heritage Night on Friday, March 15th. Secure your tickets today at atlantagladiators.com!