Gwinnett Gladiators netminder Josh Unice make one of his 40 saves on Wednesday at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. (Photo: Amanda Hertel)
DULUTH — Another lackluster start and the Gwinnett Gladiators were in a hole too big to climb out of against the free-falling Elmira Jackals.
Emblematic of their season as a whole, the Gladiators couldn’t catch up after getting down in the first period and lost 6-3 on Wednesday.
The penultimate game of the season was sparsely attended at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. There wasn’t a lot to miss, though.
Maxime Legault scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to resuscitate the Gladiators and Elmira won for just the second time in its last 13 games.
“Tonight was not only the start; it was the whole game,” Legault said frankly. “We were not well-prepared. I don’t know why or if we took this too lightly. We shouldn’t. Because we signed a contract to play here and represent this team.
“Even though we’re not in playoffs, there are still games on the schedule and there are still fans that come to see us play. That’s unacceptable the kind of effort we gave tonight.”
The teams meet again here at 7:05 p.m. Saturday for the season finale. Elmira is also looking at it’s last game with even fewer points than the Gladiators.
“I think we owe it to a lot of people (to have a better performance),” Legault said. “We owe it to ourselves first and our fans. We’re fortunate enough to finish the season at home in front of our fans and I think we need to give them a good show.”
Nolan Descoteaux scored his first pro goal, tying the game 1-1 after the Gladiators gave up the first goal just 1:15 in with backup goalie Josh Unice between the pipes.
Dirk Southern made a sweet behind-the-back pass to Descoteaux, who was streaming across the blue line and wide open in the middle. Descoteaux buried his chance at 9:49.
But that was as close as Gwinnett got.
Elmira answered 33 seconds later, scored again at 15:46 and then grabbed a 4-1 lead on Taylor Law’s second goal of the game 6:00 into the second period.
The Gladiators cut into the deficit late in the second by converting on a 4-on-1 rush. In the dying seconds of a penalty kill, Chris Culligan outworked the closest Jackal for the puck and stormed down the wing with numbers. Culligan got to the circle and snapped a pass to Legault on the far post. Legault tucked it just inside the iron at 17:30 to make it 4-2.
Then came a dagger.
Elmira’s Rob Bellamy scored a shorthanded, unassisted goal with his brother in the penalty box to restore the three-goal lead. Bellamy went end to end for his 16th goal of the season and gave the Jackals a 5-2 lead 5:03 into the third.
Legault, off a smart feed from Casey Pierro-Zabotel, sniped his second goal of the game less than 90 seconds later to close the gap again.
Gwinnett had a number of quality chances down the stretch and pulled Unice in the final minutes, but were denied at every turn. Jackals goalie Neil Conway made several stellar saves to hold the lead and Bellamy added an empty-netter just before the horn.