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Gladiators get Rays in first round

ESTERO, Fla. -- The Gwinnett Gladiators lost their regular-season finale 5-2 in Florida on Saturday and will face division rival South Carolina in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.

The Gladiators finished as the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed after dropping their last two games of the season to the Everblades.

They have home-ice advantage and elected to start the best-of-five series with the Stingrays on the road.

The first two games will be Tuesday and Wednesday at the North Charleston Coliseum. The series comes to Gwinnett at 7:05 p.m. Friday for Game 3. Game 4 (2:05 p.m., April 8) and Game 5 (7:05 p.m., April 9), if necessary will also be played at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.

The Gladiators captured the South Division title, the second in team history, with a win over Florida on Wednesday. But the Everblades won the next two games to secure the East's No. 5 seed. Florida jumped out to a 2-0 lead both nights.

The Everblades scored a pair of goals 35 seconds apart late in the first period Saturday.

Gwinnett cut the Florida lead in half 62 seconds into the period when Doug Jones potted his third goal of the season, ripping a snapshot past Pat Nagle.

The Everblades answered to regain the two-goal lead at 11:36 of the second period, but Gwinnett again cut the lead to one goal with Andy Brandt's 16th goal of the season. Brandt found a loose puck in the slot and flipped it past Nagle just 57 seconds into the third period.

Florida answered with a pair of goals over the final 19 minutes to put the Gladiators away.