The Florida Everblades' post-Thanksgiving return to Germain Arena was spoiled Wednesday night by the Gwinnett Gladiators, who beat the gritty Blades 6-3.
"We said before the game that we wanted to be aggressive and take the body. For about 10 minutes we did that, and then stopped," said Everblades coach Greg Poss. "When you allow a team to come into your barn and we don't show up in our house from the start and throughout the whole game, then (losing) is your fault."
The Gladiators were first on the scoreboard, tallying the only goal of the first period with than six minutes remaining to take a 1-0 lead into the second frame.
Despite the goal, the Everblades turned in one of their better opening periods in recent memory by playing what Poss has called "simple hockey" - fighting for loose pucks in the corners, closing shooting lanes on the penalty kill and limiting turnovers in the neutral zone.
That play carried over into the second period where Mike McKenzie took a pass from Trevor Bruess and fired a slap shot from the top of the near circle to tie the game 1-1 with 16:30 still to play in the period.
More than three minutes later, Gwinnett forced the Everblades to continue playing from behind by beating Blades goalie Pat Nagle (21 saves) for a 2-1 lead.
Sensing they were outplaying their opponent, the Blades didn't back down and eventually tied game again. This time it was David Rutherford who scored on a power play to send both teams into the final period knotted at 2-2.
Despite a long five-minute power play opportunity for the Blades in the final eight minutes of the third, during which they failed to score, early penalties cost them dearly. The Gladiators used an early power-play goal, followed by an even strength tally minutes later, to control the game and eventually steal the win.
The Everblades were looking to improve their divisional standing against the team that sits ahead of them in the division standings.
The Everblades (9-9-2) and Gladiators (10-6-5) meet again in the second of three meetings this week Friday night at Germain Arena.