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Gladiators finish strong, bury Florida

DULUTH — Despite a quick start, the Gwinnett Gladiators’ game with the Florida Everblades wasn’t nearly as crisp as their win over South Carolina a night earlier.

But they won’t argue with the results.

INSTANT REPLAY

GLADIATORS 5, EVERBLADES 2

• What happened: Derek Nesbitt scored the game’s first goal just 15 seconds after the opening face-off, and added the game-winner 4:07 into the third period. On the heels of Friday night’s hat trick in the home-opening win over South Carolina, the veteran winger now has five goals and six points in the last two games.

Linemate Ryan Garbutt also had a big night with a goal and two assists, while Aaron Bendickson and Michael Davies chipped in with a pair of assists each. Danick Paquette and Tim Miller also added a goal apiece and goaltender Chris Carrozzi stopped 32 of 34 Florida shots.

• Not so fast: While Nesbitt’s goal 15 seconds into Saturday’s game was very quick, it was not the fastest to start a game in Gwinnett history. That honor still belongs to Tom Zanoski, who scored on Charlotte goaltender Ryan Munce just 10 seconds into the Gladiators’ 5-4 victory over the Checkers on Nov. 28 of last year.

• Tapper returns: The visiting Everblades had a face on their bench Saturday that may be familiar to Atlanta-area hockey fans. Brad Tapper, who was named an assistant to Florida head coach Greg Poss just prior to training camp, had a 14-year playing career that included parts of three seasons with the Atlanta Thrashers, during which he tallied 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points in 71 games.

• Up next: The Gladiators begin a three-game road trip up the coast with back-to-back games in Trenton, N.J., against the Devils on Thursday and Friday nights. The trip concludes Saturday night in Elmira, N.Y., when they take on the Jackals before the Gladiators return home to the Arena at Gwinnett Center against South Carolina on Nov. 1.

Derek Nesbitt remained red hot, scoring 15 seconds into the game and getting the eventual game-winner early in the third period as the Gladiators scored three times in the final frame to break a tie and earn a 5-2 home victory Saturday.

Ryan Garbutt added a goal and two assists, while Aaron Bendickson and Michael Davies each had two assists. Chris Carrozzi stopped 32 of 34 shots as Gwinnett (3-0-0-1) started and finished strong to remain unbeaten in regulation on the young season.

“We didn’t play our best hockey the first two periods,” Gladiators head coach Pyle said. “Then we came back in the third period and scored early and just played the way I told the boys (to).

“It was a little bit of a gut check. ... In the end, I told the boys, you play one strong period (in the third) and you’ve got a four-point weekend.’ They responded well, and I think that tells me a lot about their character.”

Nesbitt and linemates Garbutt and Bendickson played a big part in making that happen, especially with the game tied 2-2 early in the third period.

For the second time in the game, Nesbitt slammed home a rebound on a play set up by his two linemates — this time 4:07 into the final frame to put the Gladiators up for good at 3-2.

“The two I got tonight certainly weren’t as nice as the three I got (Friday) night,” said Nesbitt, who now has five goals and six points in Gwinnett’s last two games. “When you’re getting bounces, you’re getting bounces. ... And (the line with Garbutt and Bendickson) all complement each other. We’re all different, but at the same time ... we each bring something to the line, and it’s meshing early.”

The goal also re-energized the Gladiators, and it took just 44 seconds for them to strike again.

This time, it was Danick Paquette taking a pass from Davies to break free into the slot and beat Jaroslav Janus for a 4-2 advantage at the 4:51 mark.

Tim Miller sealed the deal with the Gladiators killing off a penalty with 1:23 remaining, stealing a pass at the Florida blue line with Janus pulled for an extra attacker for a short-handed, empty-net goal.

The Gladiators provided the 5,380 fans in attendance at the Arena at Gwinnett Center plenty to cheer about in the opening minute of the game with some early jump in their skates.

After a quick icing call on Florida, Bendickson won a face-off back to Drew Paris on the left point.

Janus made the initial save on Paris, but Bendickson and Garbutt each kept the puck alive before Nesbitt tapped it in from the doorstep to put Gwinnett up 1-0 just 15 seconds after the opening face off.

The crowd got even more of an eyeful just 21 seconds later, when Ian McKenzie and Florida captain Mike Egener dropped the gloves and exchanged punches. Egener was given an extra two-minute penalty for instigating, but the Gladiators were unable to cash in on the ensuing power play.

And as much as Gwinnett dominated the opening 10 minutes of the first period, it took a clever decision by Alexandre Imbeault and an unfortunate bounce to pull the Everblades even.

Imbeault took a pass from Bobby Raymond along the goal line in the right corner with a teammate skating along the left halfwall.

But instead of passing, he sent a shot into the crease that bounced off the leg pad of Carrozzi and behind him to tie the game 1-1 at 8:32.

However, the Gladiators got that back while on the power play midway through the second period.

Davies entered the Florida zone on a rush and skated towards the far post, taking a couple of Everblades defensemen with him before sending a shot towards the near post, where Garbutt was waiting to jam it past Janus to put Gwinnett back in front 2-1 at the 9:05 mark.

Florida tied it again at 2-2 with a power-play goal of its own — Imbeault’s second of the game — with 5:33 left in the second. But that was the last puck to get past Carrozzi, who picked up his second win in as many nights.