ESTERO, Fla. — The Atlanta Gladiators dropped the first of two matchups against their ECHL South Division-rival Florida Everblades in a 5-3 Valentine's Day defeat Friday night despite a goal and an assist from Zach Malatesta.  

Similar to Tuesday's matchup in Atlanta, the team that stuck first did not finish as the victor.

The Glads opened the scoring Friday night when Malatesta scored a power-play goal assisted by Scott Conway and Logan Nelson 2:22 into the first period. However, it was the Everblades’ Cody Sol who found the back of the net twice in the first period at 11:27 and 15:42 respectively for a 2-1 Florida lead heading into the second period.

After Florida opened the second period with a goal by Hunter Garlent at 3:07 to widen the lead, Eric Neiley battled hard for a rebound in front of the net to bring the Glads within one about 10 minutes later.

But just under a minute later, it was the Everblades’ Hugo Roy who scored with help from Lukas Craggs to give Florida another two-goal lead.

The third period was scoreless until Tommy Marchin tipped a Malatesta shot to bring the Glads within one. 

However, after Atlanta pulled goaltender Callum Booth, Levko Koper struck on an empty net to seal the game for Florida.

The Gladiators take the ice again in Estero on Saturday when they battle the same Everblades at 7 p.m.

Atlanta returns to home ice Tuesday evening when they host the Adirondack Thunder at Infinite Energy Arena.

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