ESTERO, Fla. - The Florida Everblades were on their way to extending their franchise record home winning streak to 13 games Friday. With one minute left and Florida up, the crowd could sense a victory. Then something strange happened.
The Everblades blew a third-period lead.
Gwinnett Gladiators defenseman Troy Milam scored on a 20-foot slap shot with 48 seconds left to tie the game and Jimmy Sharrow trickled a 15-foot shot through goalie Phil Osaer's legs in overtime to give Gwinnett a 5-4 victory in front of 6,428 at Germain Arena.
The defeat snapped Florida's five-game winning streak and was its first home defeat since it dropped its season opener. The loss also marked the first time that the Blades blew a third-period lead this season. Florida entered Friday 12-0 when leading after two periods.
The Everblades (19-7-2) still picked up a point in the division standings. Florida holds a two-point lead over Gwinnett (17-6-4) in the ECHL South. The same two teams will meet again at 7:30 tonight at Germain.
Milam, who was named as a starter to the ECHL American Conference All-Star team on Friday, scored the game-tying goal on a delayed penalty. Center Brad Schell fed Milam just below the blue line and Milam whizzed a shot into the top left corner of the net.
Gwinnett hit the crossbar with 11 seconds remaining as Florida held on to force overtime.
Then Sharrow's game-winning goal deflected off Everblades defenseman Ryan Brindley's shin pad and trickled through Osaer's legs.
"They didn't score too many clean goals tonight," Florida defenseman Chris Lee said. "They got a couple of good bounces and things went their way. Sometimes shots from the point find a way into the net. Unfortunately, it happened to bite us in the rear end tonight."
The Gladiators was 4-of-8 on the power play and Florida was 0-for-7.
"The (home winning) streak was going to come to an end eventually," said Osaer, who stopped 31 of 36 shots. "I didn't think we were going to go 35-1 at home. Now it's time to start a new streak and see if we can outdo ourselves.
"There will be a sense of desperation in our locker room (today). We know how big this weekend is. I think we'll look at it as a success if we can walk away with three out of four points."
Gwinnett, which played Augusta on Thursday night, looked tired after busing nine hours to Fort Myers on Friday and Florida made the Gladiators pay in the first period. The Blades scored a goal exactly one minute into the game when Daniel Sisca tapped home a pass from Kevin Bergin. Florida added another goal at the two-minute mark when Bogdan Rudenko buried a slap shot from the top of the right circle.
Two minutes. Two Blades goals. Florida had a prime chance to score at the three-minute mark, but Gwinnett goalie Sean Fields turned away a Grant McNeill shot from the blue line.
The Gladiators didn't panic. They registered three unanswered power-play goals to grab a 3-2 lead at 2:26 of the second period. Gwinnett's second goal came via a 5-on-3 opportunity.
Florida, however, closed the stanza strong, scoring two goals to take a 4-3 lead into the third period.