Duluth, GA– Goalie Joe Murdaca, in his first game back from injury, stopped 29 out of 30 shots to lead the Atlanta Gladiators (33-25-6-1) over the Florida Everblades (34-21-4-4) by a score of 4-1. forward Mike Pelech had a phenomenal game as well, scoring two goals and assisting on the other two Gladiator goals. The game didn’t start well for Atlanta as they conceded a goal to Florida Forward Blake Winiecki 5:13 into the 1st period. Everblades Forward Andrew Fyten led a breakout from his zone and found Winiecki at the Gladiator blueline with a great pass. Fyten skated passed the Atlanta defender and wristed a shot that partially caught Murdaca but still trickled in for the goal. Less than three minutes later, Atlanta would tie the game on a Pelech wrister that went five hole on Everblades goalie Cam Johnson. Johnson looked to have been partially screened by his team and didn’t cleanly see the shot. The puck had just enough on it to trickle past the goaline. This was Pelech’s 13th goal of the season, but it wouldn’t be his last of the night. Glads Defenseman Bray Crowder had a chance to put the home team up two when he was on a breakaway and was slashed by an Everblades player. Crowder was awarded a penalty shot but could not capitalize as Johnson made a relatively routine save on the attempt. With the first period winding down, Atlanta created a turnover in the Florida zone, leading to a pass from Sanghoon Shin that banked off an Everblade defenders stick and right to a waiting Pelech. Pelech buried the shot on Johnson’s stick side from the front of the goal with only 0.3 seconds to go in the period. Atlanta outshot Florida 15 to 12 in the period and dominated the play.
The second period would be a different story as Florida imposed their will on the Gladiators for most of the frame. Most of the action came in the Gladiator zone, where Florida could get ten shots off in the period. Although the shot production was down, Florida was able to keep the puck away from Atlanta and control the pace of the game. Finally, with just over four minutes left in the period, Pelech secured the puck behind the Everblades net and swung it out to a waiting Derek Topatigh at the blue line. Topatigh rifled a shot toward the net that Cody Sylvester delicately tipped home. This was Sylvester’s 31st goal of the season, but it also wouldn’t be his last of the night. This goal gave Atlanta a 3-1 lead heading into the final period. Finishing off games has not been Atlanta’s strong suit so far this season, and again Florida jumped on the Gladiators in the 3rd period. The period was almost a carbon copy of the 2nd period, where Florida controlled the puck for long periods of time. Atlanta was able to avoid danger with Murdaca making good saves, as well as the defense clearing the puck at opportune times. Atlanta took a penalty to Defenseman Zach Yoder for hooking with 3:58 left in the 3rd period. Florida used this time to pull Johnson for the extra attacker to make it a 6-4 advantage. The plan backfired as Atlanta controlled the puck in their zone off the faceoff, and Sylvester sent the puck down the ice and into the empty net to ice the game for the Gladiators.
With the game in hand, Florida Forward Carson Focht delivered a high stick to Pelech, which connected right in the face. Focht received a double minor, but with the Gladiators still to play the Everblades four more times in the next 17 days, you can bet that Atlanta will remember the play. Although Murdaca was named the 3rd star of the game, you can easily make a case that he was the 1st star. Murdaca played great in net, especially in the 2nd and 3rd periods when Atlanta had trouble finding any rhythm on offense. I firmly believe that if either of the other Gladiator goalies were in net, this could have had a different ending. The top line of Mike Pelech, Cody Sylvester, and Sanghoon Shin is going to determine whether this team makes the playoffs. They are hard to beat when they play as they did on Wednesday night. Of the four goals and seven assists the Gladiators had, those three contributed to nine of the possible eleven points. The Gladiators find themselves three points back of Florida for a playoff spot, while Florida also has two games in hand. The Gladiators take on their in-state rivals, the Savannah Ghost Pirates, Friday night at Enmarket Arena, while the Everblades travel to Greenville to take on the Swamp Rabbits.