ESTERO, Fla. — Blake Winiecki scored twice for the second straight night and Kyle Platzer registered the lone shootout goal to send the Florida Everblades to a 4-3 shootout win and a series sweep over the Atlanta Gladiators on Saturday night at Hertz Arena.
In his first game back with Florida (42-15-5-0, 89 pts.), goaltender Callum Booth made 22 saves in his ‘Blades season debut and stopped all three shooters he faced in the shootout to help give the Everblades their fifth straight victory.
Desperate for two points to claw at the heels of South Carolina for the final playoff spot in the South Division, Atlanta (24-25-7-2, 57 pts.) got out to a two-goal lead midway through the first period.
The Gladiators got on the board first at 10:52 of the first off an offensive zone draw that came back to Zach Malatesta at the point for a blast that beat Booth.
The Gladiators added to their lead 1:27 later while playing four-on-four. Atlanta came into the zone on a two-on-two rush, but Brett McKenzie broke around his man to the top of the left circle for a shooting lane and wristed a shot that beat Booth down low for the goal.
A huge chance for a momentum swing came with 5:07 to play in the first period, as the ‘Blades went for a five-on-three power play for one minute, 20 seconds. Winiecki made the most of the opportunity, scoring his eighth goal of the year against the Gladiators. As Florida rotated from man to man in the offensive end, Michael Neville sent the puck to Winiecki up high. He walked into the top of the slot and fired a shot that cleanly beat Atlanta goaltender Michael Blitzer to make it 2-1 with 4:24 to play in the first period.
Florida tied the game 3:52 into the second with a power-play goal from Matt Finn, who has scored in three straight games. Arguably the only player hotter than Finn, Winiecki set up the game-tying strike with a feed from the left-wing wall to the back post for Finn. Finn jammed in the feed past Bitzer to make it 2-2.
Winiecki added a shorthanded goal, his fourth in two games, to give the ‘Blades the lead with 1:44 to play in the second period. With the puck sliding to the high slot in Florida’s defensive zone, Winiecki whacked the puck out to center, gathered it and raced out on a breakaway. He then fired a shot that got past Blitzer to give the ‘Blades their first lead of the game.
The ‘Blades got into penalty trouble early in the third period and had to kill off one minute, two seconds of five-on-three time. The Gladiators capitalized on the two-man advantage at 5:27 to tie the game at three. Brett McKenzie picked up his second point of the night, finding Nick Bligh on the backdoor to put it by Booth.
Neither team scored in the remainder of regulation or overtime to set the stage for Platzer and Booth to team up in the shootout to give Florida the win.Florida plays four games in five days next week, starting with a Wednesday night matchup in Orlando against the Solar Bears.
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