DULUTH, GA – The Atlanta Gladiators downed the Greenville Swamp Rabbits 4-3 in overtime Sunday afternoon to draw within four points of the final ECHL South Division playoff spot. D Zach Malatesta netted a three point game (2G, 1A) as the Glads grabbed points in their fourth straight contest.
The visiting Swamp Rabbits wasted no time in getting on the board, as D Luke Ripley and D John Furgele assisted F Nathan Perkovich on his 16th goal of the year just 1:09 into the game. Greenville continued to dictate the early pace as F Cedric Lacroix and F Michael Pelech were the ones assisting Perkovich on his second goal of the period. Less than nine minutes into the game, the home team was staring at a two-goal deficit.
Atlanta began to find their game in the offensive zone near the end of the frame. F Eric Neiley found Malatesta at the blue line before the Boston, MA native rocketed a shot beyond Greenville G Jake Kupsky to cut the lead in half with :45 seconds to play in the first. F Luke Nogard had seemingly tied the game with :06 seconds remaining on a quick shot that appeared to ricochet off the back bar and out. After review, the goal call was overturned and maintained the Rabbits 2-1 advantage.
On a power play to start the second period, F Scott Conway and F Reid Jackman found Malatesta once again. From the slot, the team’s leader in games played this season bested Kupsky again to tie the game just 1:45 into the middle frame. The physical tone picked up in the second as both teams received multiple chances on the power play. After 40 minutes of play, the score remained 2-2.
Nogard, looking to make up for the goal that had been taken off the scoreboard, won a puck battle near the blue line before slipping defenders and facing the Swamp Rabbits netminder one-on-one. The Mississauga, ON native gave Atlanta their first lead of the afternoon on his ninth goal of the year with 13:17 to play. Greenville captain Pelech found Ripley for the game-tying goal with 5:53 to play in regulation. Despite a late push from both sides, they remained tied at three after sixty minutes.
Just 1:28 into the three-on-three overtime period, Pelech was called for a tripping penalty. Atlanta head coach Jeff Pyle took a timeout before the four-on-three power play opportunity. Malatesta found F Tommy Marchin before the Brown University product slid a pass into the slot. Conway sent the big home crowd home happy with a wristshot that beat Kupsky to give the Glads a 4-3 win.
With the victory, Atlanta pulls to within four points of Greenville for the fourth and final South Division playoff spot. The Glads have played two less games than the Swamp Rabbits, and the teams will square off two more times this season.
The Gladiators hit the road again Wednesday, February 26th for a morning tilt with the South Carolina Stingrays. Their annual Education Day game is set for 10:30 AM. Atlanta returns to home ice on Friday, February 28th when they host the Orlando Solar Bears at 7:35 PM. Fans are encouraged to get tickets to Hockey Fights Cancer Weekend today!