DULUTH, GA - The Atlanta Gladiators bounced off the mat late in the third period to get a momentous 4-3 win over the Kansas City Mavericks Saturday night at Infinite Energy Arena. A robust crowd gathered on Marvel Super Hero™ Night to see Atlanta's Team Groot take on Kansas City's Team Rocket. In the end, it was Derek Nesbitt that was the biggest hero of the night.
Despite an early onslaught of offensive pressure from the hosting Gladiators, it was Kansas City that capitalized on their first scoring opportunity. The Mavericks earned the first power play of the night with 14:17 to play in the first period, and Rocco Carzo found the back of the net on the visitors' first shot of the night. He was assisted by Riley Sweeney and Willie Raskob just :10 seconds into the man advantage. The visiting Mavs did not hold the advantage for long, as Atlanta continued to pressure the tired road warriors from Missouri. It was Avery Peterson gathering the puck in the high slot before twirling the puck to Tyson Fawcett in the front of net minder Mason McDonald. His spin move buried the puck in the back of the cage to tie the game with 11:24 to play in the first period.
Atlanta looked to lean on their penalty kill again with just over two minutes to play in the opening frame. Shortly after one penalty, a delay of game penalty on Atlanta put the visitors on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:56. The Gladiators penalty killers worked hard to negate the decisive advantage, even neutralizing both penalties. However, the momentum built by Kansas City during the two man-advantage was too much to overcome. Raskob and Greg Betzold fed Darian Dziurzynski in Sean Bonar's crease before the go-ahead tally with :05 seconds remaining in the eventful first period.
After a fast-paced first half of the second period, it was the hometown Gladiators that kept pressuring the visiting Mavericks. Their effort paid off when Zach Malatesta found Nick Bligh streaking into the offensive zone. He garnered attention from Kansas City defenders but twirled a pass to an unguarded Derek Nesbitt in the slot. His blast bested McDonald in goal to tie the game with 9:04 to play in the middle frame. The see-saw nature of the contest continued just five minutes later when Betzold gathered a go-ahead score from Nate Widman and Corey Durocher.
Atlanta had two power play chances early in the third period, but failed to convert them into a game-tying tally. The entertainment factor was ratcheted up by a few levels down the stretch. Atlanta finally turned their multiple chances into a game-tying goal with 3:24 to play. Jack Stander gathered a puck in the neutral zone before dishing ahead to a gaggle of Gladiators crashing the net. Matt Lane chipped it in with 3:24 to play, sending the 9,509 in attendance into a frenzy. While the team and crowd settled from the celebration, another one was being engineered. Nesbitt, in his first game back after the birth of his first son, snagged a puck on a turnover in front of the net and one-timed and shot beyond McDonald to give Atlanta the lead just :26 seconds after the game-tying tally. The Gladiators held on for the final three minutes to take another thrilling win at Infinite Energy Arena.
The victory gives Atlanta 66 points on the season, trailing South Carolina by just two points with four games in hand. The Gladiators take the ice again Sunday afternoon at 3:05 PM against the Greenville Swamp Rabbits at the first-ever Undie Toss and Atlanta Pro Sports Day! Get your tickets now at atlantagladiators.com!