DULUTH, Ga. – The Florida Everblades kicked off a four-game road trip with a critical South Division matchup against the Atlanta Gladiators, but fell short 4-1 Wednesday night in Gas South Arena.
After taking a quick 1-0 lead off Blake Winiecki’s 17th goal of the season just 5:13 after the opening draw, the Everblades were touched for two goals by Atlanta’s Mike Pelech as the Gladiators took a 2-1 lead after one period. The ECHL’s all-time leader in games played, Pelech connected at the 8:02 and 19:59 marks.
On his way to a 13-save first period, Everblades netminder Cam Johnson came up big, stopping Atlanta’s Bray Crowder on a penalty shot at 13:46, the first faced by the Everblades this season. The Gladiators outshot Florida 15-12 in the opening stanza.
Atlanta logged a late second-period goal by Cody Sylvester at 15:58 to extend the Gladiators’ lead to 3-1. Sylvester’s goal took advantage of one of Atlanta’s few opportunities in a middle period that saw Florida claim a 10-4 edge in shots on goal.
In the third period, the Everblades outshot the Gladiators 8-3, but Sylvester’s second goal of the night into an empty net at 16:08 as Florida enjoyed a six-on-four advantage closed out the scoring.
Florida outshot Atlanta 30-22 on the night, the sixth straight game that the Blades outshot their opponent. In between the pipes, Johnson (23-16-4-3) made 18 saves for the Everblades, while his counterpart Joe Murdaca turned aside 29 shots in a winning effort for Atlanta.
The South Division playoff race and seeding remains tight. With nine regular-season games remaining, the Everblades (34-21-4-4) find themselves with 76 points in fourth place in a tight South Division race, but sit just four points out of first place and remain just three points and two points from second place and third place, respectively. With seven games left in their schedule, Atlanta (33-25-6-1) climbs within three points of Florida for the final playoff spot in the South with 73 points.
The Everblades will enjoy a day off on Thursday before visiting the Greenville Swamp Rabbits in a pivotal South Division matchup Friday at 7:05 p.m. Friday’s matchup marks the start of a stretch featuring three games in three days, as the Blades and Gladiators are slated to face off once again in Duluth Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m
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The Florida Everblades are the proud ECHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers and the AHL's Charlotte Checkers.