A successful start to a must-win game for the Atlanta Gladiators turned into a heartbreaking loss, eliminating the team from the playoffs. The Gladiators went down early in Friday night’s interdivisional game against the Jacksonville Icemen. Chris Grando opened the scoring for the Icemen 12:47 into the game. Atlanta committed back-to-back penalties within 53 seconds to give Jacksonville a 5-3 advantage. The first penalty expired, and right before the 2nd penalty expired, Noah Laaouan fed Mike Pelech with a beautiful behind-the-back pass from the blue line as Pelech came in alone and fired the game-tying goal into the back of the net. Just over two minutes later, Sanghoon Shin took a pace from Derek Topatigh, who dished It back to Topatigh for a snipe past Icemen Goalie Olof Lindbom for a 2-1 lead going into the 1st intermission. Shots were tied eight a piece after the period.
In the 2nd period, they started slow for Atlanta, who had a chance to extend the lead on a power play but came up empty-handed. Pelech was called for a penalty shortly thereafter, and Jacksonville took advantage, scoring the game-tying goal on the power play. Atlanta managed one shot over the first 11 minutes of the period. Jacksonville went back to the power play on a delay of game from Bode Wilde, and Jacksonville made them pay for it with another power-play goal from Matheson Iacopelli, his 18th goal of the season. The wheels started to come off shortly after that when an Icemen player went into goalie Joe Murdaca and Mackenzie Dwyer made them pay by firing the puck into the net. The play was reviewed but stood as Jacksonville took a 4-2 lead. The period would end that way, with Jacksonville outshooting the Gladiators 14-2.
Gladiators came out firing on the net at the beginning of the 3rd period. Within three minutes, they had already surpassed the shots they had on goal in the 2nd period. Lindbom made plenty of saves as Atlanta came out firing. The Gladiators could not get one past Lindbom as Jacksonville played more of a keep-away offense from the Gladiators. Shin finally busted through Lindbom’s defense with 4:08 left in the 3rd period to bring the game to a goal deficit for Atlanta. Joe Murdaca was pulled with 1:59 left in the game after an icing on Jacksonville to give the Glads a 6-5 advantage. Atlanta then took their timeout with 1:04 left in the game, with a faceoff coming in their offensive zone. Atlanta was able to get a few shots on goal, but big saves by Lindbom kept the score 4-3 Jacksonville. Atlanta had a few late chances, but ultimately Lindbom came up huge. Atlanta was too little, too late, outshooting Jacksonville 16-4 in the 3rd period, with the teams tying at 26 shots a pieces for the game. With the loss and a win by the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, the Gladiators were officially eliminated from the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The same two teams tomorrow; the puck drops at 7:05 in Jacksonville.