( Photo Credit: Dale Zanine / gwinnettdailypost.com )

By: Chris Greene  |  Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports

After a tough week on the road, the Atlanta Gladiators return home for three divisional matchups against South Carolina, Florida, and Norfolk. Coach Pyle will be working hard to make sure his team returns to winning ways and keep their playoff hopes alive. The Glads are just two points behind the South Carolina Stingrays, who are in the final playoff spot. This is a crucial week, and the playoff picture could look very different after the next three games.

The Glads were boosted by the return of Brett McKenzie last Friday, following a stint in the AHL with the Providence Bruins. The rookie forward made an instant impact, but the big move of the week was the trade that saw forward, Branden Troock, sent to the Maine Mariners in exchange for defenseman, John Furgele. The rookie blueliner has been a standout performer this season, contributing 21 points (8g, 13a) in 51 games for the Mariners. He opened his Glads account straight away with two assists for his new team. In other news, forward Jared Ross has been signed and added to the active roster. Derek Nesbitt and Jake Flegal return from reserve while Joshua Victor and Joe Widmar head the other way. Defenseman Kevin Montgomery has been placed on IR as of March ninth.

The Gladiators started the week against the South Carolina Stingrays. With the two teams so close in the South Division standings, this is the most important game of the week. Playing at home will be an advantage for Atlanta, but with so much at stake, it is a tough game to call. The Glads have been closing in on the Stingrays for some time, and letting them win would increase the gap to four points. Both teams will be feeling the pressure, this could be a defining moment in the playoff race.

The games do not get any easier for Atlanta. Following the crucial game against South Carolina, the Glads get a chance of redemption against the Florida Everblades. Atlanta lost all three games against the ‘Blades last week, but they managed to earn a point in the third match up. The Everblades have been a problem for a very long time, but the Glads know they are capable of beating them. Home ice will be an advantage, but Atlanta will have to be at their best to win this one.

The Glads finish the week at home against the Norfolk Admirals. It has been over a month since the two teams last faced off. Since then, the Gladiators have climbed above Norfolk in the South Division standings and head into the week five points ahead of them. The Admirals are 3-6-0-1 in their last 10 and have not won in six games. Earlier this week, they picked up former Gladiator, Shane Eiserman, via trade which will add spice to the game.

This Week’s Gladiators To Watch:

Brett McKenzie: After spending time in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, McKenzie returned to the Glads and picked up where he left off scoring three points (1g, 2a) last week. The rookie forward has become an important player for Atlanta and is currently third on the team in total points with 36 (12g, 24a).

Olivier Galipeau: The rookie defenseman has been quiet offensively in recent weeks and is due for some points. The Gladiators power play has been strong all season, and Olivier is a key part of it. He is a skillful player and always fun to watch, keep an eye on him.

Nick Bligh: The third-year forward exploded against Jacksonville with three first period goals (for the second time this season) and has seven points (4g, 3a) in his last five games for Atlanta. He has been in solid form over the last two weeks and will be one to watch this week.

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