Bitzer's First Pro Shutout Gets Atlanta Back in the Win Column with 3-0 Thumping of Greenville
DULUTH, GA - A night after their historic point streak came to a close, the Atlanta Gladiators rebounded in resilient fashion with a 3-0 thumping of the Greenville Swamp Rabbits on Zombie Night at Infinite Energy Arena. Michael Bitzer stopped all 28 shots he faced en-route to his first pro shutout.
Atlanta jumped out to a quick start, outshooting the visiting Swamp Rabbits 6-0 in the early minutes of the contest. Despite the early energy, both teams were scoreless after twenty minutes of play. Both teams continued to pressure into the second frame, but failed to capitalize on early scoring chances.
The home team finally opened up the scoring in the middle frame when Nick Bligh grabbed the puck out of a scrum on the half boards. He glided to the far-side corner and waited for the right opportunity to fire a pass to the crease. He fed Joe Widmar in front of Greenville's net, and the Northbrook, IL product buried the chance, giving Atlanta the 1-0 lead with 9:40 to play in the second.
Just over two minutes later, a chaotic sequence led to another Gladiators goal. A puck jabbed towards Greenville netminder Garrett Bartus caromed toward the goal line before a last-ditch save by the sprawling goalie. The puck skittered back to the blue line to be gathered by newly-appointed alternate captain, Joel Messner. His blast found the back of the net to double the Atlanta lead on his second tally of the season and first since opening night.
Determined to take control after a disappointing outing Thursday night, Atlanta added onto their lead in the final frame. Fresh out of the penalty box, forward Dan Leavens stepped in front of a Greenville pass in the neutral zone. He raced the other direction towards Bartus' net before his wrap-around shot beat Bartus, increasing the Gladiators' lead to 3-0 less than three minutes into the third period. Atlanta clamped down defensively for the final 17 minutes to earn their goaltender, Bitzer, his first shutout as a Gladiator.
The win puts Atlanta just six points back of a playoff spot with three games in hand on the fourth place Jacksonville Icemen.
Atlanta looks to build on the impressive outing as they kick off a five-game road trip with a visit to the South Carolina Stingrays in a pivotal South Division matchup on Sunday. Puck drop is set for 3:05 PM. The Gladiators return home on Friday, March 1st against Greenville.
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