Photo: Amanda Hertel Gwinnett's Joey Haddad battles for the puck in the corner with Florida's Beau Schmitz (17) and Aaron Bogosian (18) on Saturday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
DULUTH -- Playing with a journeyman goaltender between the pipes, the Gwinnett Gladiators dropped a tough 4-3 decision to Florida on Saturday in front of 7,628 at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
Nick Niedert was brought in hours before the game after Gwinnett lost a second goalie to AHL call-up late Friday night. Louis Domingue left for Portland following his win over Wheeling on Friday. Mike Lee was reassigned to Portland earlier this week.
Which left the Gladiators scrambling for a netminder. They had already brought in Nick Eno to back up Domingue when Lee left, but needed another.
They found Niedert, who has played 230 pro games for 22 teams in eight leagues during his nine-year career. The 30-year-old was most recently with Orlando, but didn't play a game for the Solar Bears. This season, he's also been with Reading and Elmira in the ECHL, Danbury (FHL), Bloomington (CHL) and Augusta (SPHL).
Niedert made 16 saves, but it was a play skating out of the net that ended up putting Florida ahead for good in the third.
The Gladiators (32-20-2-1, 67 points) were on the power play and gave up a rush the other way. Niedert charged out to the faceoff circle to try to defuse the situation and made the poke check. But he fell down and Matthew Pistilli flung the puck into the open net at 7:18.
"Hockey is a game of mistakes and that was the play (he should make)," said defenseman Corey Fienhage, who set up the Gladiators' second goal. "It looked like our guy could have been beat and he went out to play the puck. Which is what we want him to do.
"It's just unfortunate that it took the bounce that it did right to their guy."
Florida added an empty-netter on the power play -- courtesy of a poor high sticking call by referee Chris Pitoscia in the final two minutes -- that ended up being the game-winner when Evan Bloodoff scored with 2.7 seconds left in regulation.
"I thought we came out and played really well," Fienhage said. "Everybody was playing Gladiator hockey -- hard-nosed, getting in and touching (the puck) first. I thought we did that really well.
"And I think (Niedert) came in and played well, too. We've got to help him out in front of the net and get rid of some of those extra opportunities they're getting."
The two teams meet again today at 2:05 p.m., Gwinnett's third game in 48 hours and the finale of Pink in the Rink.
Fienhage said the Gladiators aren't going to change their plan for the rematch.
"I thought we played an outstanding game overall," he said. "Forwards were chipping pucks in and getting some quality chances. The shots ended up being close to 40-20. We executed the gameplan we wanted to and it just didn't happen tonight."
There wasn't anything Niedert could have done about the first shot he faced which gave Florida a 1-0 lead. A backhanded pass through the slot deflected over to Leigh Salters on the far post. Salters was unguarded and had an easy tap-in 3:40 into the game.
Niedert made a number of excellent saves through the rest of the period, including back-to-back denials 13 minutes in with Florida swarming around the net.
But another bad bounce gave Florida (26-17-4-5, 61 points) a 2-1 lead 5:20 into the second period.
The Gladiators tied the game on the power play just 32 seconds into the second. Moving the puck well in the zone, Casey Pierro-Zabotel was open at the face-off dot to get a feed and buried a rocket behind goalie Rob Madore.
Florida regained its lead when an attempted centering pass from Mathieu Roy behind the net hit a Gwinnett skate and slipped past Niedert.
"We're got to be tougher in the 10X10 zone, the offensive zone in front of the net, and tougher to play against in the defensive zone in front of our net," Fienhage said. "I think we're doing a pretty good job of being tough in front of our net. Obviously (we had) some unlucky bounces, but I think we're playing pretty well."
Fienhage's play helped Gwinnett tie the game 2-2 at 15:08 of the second. On a scramble in front of the Florida net and two chances already by the wayside, the Gladiators regrouped to even the score. Fienhage jumped down to the corner to fetch the loose puck and snapped it up to Nick Walsh in the high slot. Walsh rifled it past a discombobulated Madore for his second goal of the season.