ESTERO, Fla. - What transpired on the ice Friday night at Germain Arena between the Florida Everblades and Gwinnett Gladiators was akin to a classic heavyweight fight, not decided until the final round - and beyond.
Like a battle-tested fighter, the Everblades refused to throw in the towel even though they were down by a goal with less than a minute left in regulation, pulling out a 4-3 shootout win to draw within four points of first-place Gwinnett in the South Division of the ECHL's American Conference.
It was Florida's fourth straight shootout win, all within the last week. Two have come against the Gladiators, who are 0-7 in shootouts this season.
"We were talking about it wondering if we are on some sort of a record pace," said Everblades goaltender Phil Osaer, who stopped all five attempts in the shootout and turned away 39 of 42 shots on the night. "It's been good and it's been fun, it's a fun way to win, especially when you're going against someone like Gwinnett and that extra point means so much."
Kevin Bergin's second goal of the night with 41 seconds left tied the game and sent the 7,019 fans into a frenzy as he guaranteed at least a point in the standings for Florida (34-16-3), and his linemate, Daniel Sisca, was the only player from either team to score in the shootout.
Gwinnett (34-11-7) got a solid effort out of goaltender Sean Fields, who stopped 38 of the 41 shots he faced in a dramatic duel with Osaer, but came up just a bit short.
The two teams go at it again tonight, the fourth time they will have faced each other in seven days, and another Florida win in regulation will leave a two-point separation between the two teams with five weeks left in the season.
The top two teams in the division get a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Paul Cabana scored the other goal for the Everblades on a power play in the first period and Jeff Dwyer, newly acquired Brian Teixeira and Guillaume Desbiens scored for the Gladiators.
"Against a good team the guys just didn't want to be denied," Fleming said.