ESTERO, Fla. The Gwinnett Gladiators squandered a 3-1 third period lead Thursday to lose to the Florida Everblades 4-3 in the first of a three-day, three-game visit to the division rival.
The loss drops the Gladiators to 26-25-4-2 (58 points) and keeps the struggling team in last place in the South Division. Florida improves to 31-19-4-5 (71 points) with the win.
Before the Everblades made their late-game comeback, it was Gwinnett which played from behind.
Florida struck first at the 9:12 mark of the first period with the man advantage. Ernie Hartlieb dropped a puck off on the left point to Dominic Osman, who quickly fired a pass to Matt Duffy on the right circle. Duffy placed a shot between the legs of a sliding Danny Taylor, and the puck just trickled into the goal.
Gwinnett answered as the period ended when it forced a turnover and Scott Mifsud led an offensive rush into the Florida zone. Mifsud dropped the puck off to Matt Francis who fired a shot through traffic. Chris Beckford-Tsu made the initial save, but Francis slammed home his own rebound to even the score.
The Gladiators built on the lead in the second period, and it started early. Gwinnett took its first lead of the contest just 47 seconds into the second when Francis and Tim Miller teamed up to dig a puck free behind the Everblades net, and Miller tapped the puck to Dan Sullivan. Sullivan squeezed a shot just past Beckford-Tsu.
Gwinnett increased its lead at the 12:17 mark of the period. Tom Zanoski wrapped a puck behind the Florida net, and Adam Berti stepped out next to the left post. Berti quickly fired a pass to Mike McLean who one-timed a shot on the backhand and gave the Gladiators a 3-1 advantage.
But then the Everblades rallied.
Shea Guthrie tipped a shot from Phil Paquet past Danny Taylor to cut the Gladiators lead to one. And 13 minutes later, tied the game on a long blast from the top of the slot by Mathieu Roy. Roy's blast hit Taylor on the way to the net, but had just enough power to trickle past the Gwinnett goaltender.
Florida finished its comeback at the 17:02 mark after a mad scramble in front of the Gladiator's net. Gajic picked up his second point of the night when he notched the game-winning goal, rifling a shot past a sprawling Danny Taylor.