Late Tally from Malatesta Gives Atlanta 2-1 Win in Series Opener in Rapid City
RAPID CITY, SD - The Gladiators made the 1,500 plus mile trek to Rapid City, SD for their first-ever meeting with the Rush. With the defensive battle tied heading to the waning moments of the third period, Zach Malatesta blasted a shot into the goal with just 2:03 remaining in the game giving the Glads a 2-1 road victory.
Atlanta showed they'd adjusted to the Mountain Time Zone when the line including Nick Bligh and Joe Widmar produced an early tally. With Derek Nesbitt out of the lineup, Avery Peterson joined the point-producing line and found Widmar in the nearside corner. The Northbrook, IL product wiggled free of a defender before he twirled a pass into the crease where Bligh was waiting. His shot found the back of the net with 15:29 to play in the opening frame and gave the Gladiators a pivotal early advantage. The goal was Bligh's team-leading 17th of the season.
The home team slowly mounted offensive momentum in the middle period, eventually earning their first man-advantage of the night. Atlanta was called for a too-many-men penalty with 8:15 remaining in the second frame. Despite the power play opportunity, the Gladiators stood tall and even had a great short-handed chance from Matt Lane.
Atlanta looked to carry their lead into the second intermission, but the home side finally managed to solve goaltender Sean Bonar in the final minutes of the second frame. On a puck that appeared to go the length of the rink for icing, Rapid City pounced. Justin Faryna found the back of the net with 1:40 to play in the middle period, and the inaugural meeting between the two squads went to the break at a deadlock.
Both teams clamped down defensively in the third period in a contest that seemed destined for an overtime frame. Once again, it was Widmar sparking a critical scoring opportunity. He gathered the puck from Luke Stork on the far boards before dishing a crisp pass to defenseman, Zach Malatesta, trailing the play. The Boston, MA native had a clear shot on Tyler Parks' cage and blasted the go-ahead goal past the Rapid City netminder with 2:05 to play in regulation.
Despite a late penalty and 6-on-4 power play for the home team, Atlanta held on for another exciting victory. The win lifts the Gladiators to 52 points on the season and just three points out of a playoff position.
Atlanta continues the Western Division road trip Friday and Saturday night in Rapid City, with both games commencing at 9:05 PM Eastern time.
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