By: Chris Greene | Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports
With 69 games played, the Atlanta Gladiators are finally on the home stretch. After looking down and out before Christmas, Jeff Pyle’s team has fought back to within touching distance of the playoffs. With three regular-season games remaining, the Glads are tied with South Carolina for the final postseason spot, the entire season comes down to the next three games.
There are four playoff spots available in the South Division, the first three have been secured by Florida, Orlando, and Jacksonville. The Glads are battling with the South Carolina Stingrays for the fourth and final spot. Both teams have 72 points each, but Atlanta has the advantage of having three games remaining compared to South Carolina’s two. If that is not compelling enough, the last two games of the season are head-to-head matchups between the Glads and the ‘Rays.
After the wave of AHL reinforcements last week, there has been very little activity on the Glads roster in the last few days. On Sunday forward Alex Overhardt was activated from reserve, while defenseman Jake Flegal was placed on reserve.
Atlanta starts the final week of the regular season on the road against the Orlando Solar Bears. The Glads thrashed them 5-1 last week, and another win would give them a huge advantage before they face the Stingrays. The Solar Bears have nothing left to play for with their spot in the playoffs secured, but they would love to upset Atlanta. The rivalry between the teams this season has produced some very physical games, this matchup will be the same. With the season on the line, Coach Pyle will ensure his players are highly motivated and will want two points to put them ahead in the playoff race. You do not want to miss this one.
After the Glads finish with Orlando, they have two back to back games against the South Carolina Stingrays. Game one is in South Carolina, and game two is in Atlanta. It truly is a winner takes all scenario and there will be no margin for errors. The previous 70 games can be forgotten for both teams, it all comes down to this, two games Glads fans simply cannot miss.
This Week’s Gladiators To Watch:
Nick Bligh: The third-year forward was in stunning form last week, notching six points (2g, 4a) in four games. The Glads offense is firing on all cylinders last week and his natural hunger for goals makes him one to watch this week.
Joel Messner: After a stint in the AHL with the Providence Bruins, the rookie defenseman returned to Atlanta in explosive form, tallying five points (2g, 3a) last week. He probably won’t maintain that level of offensive output, but he is one to watch for his defensive contributions. He is a very consistent presence on the blue line and the Glads will be pleased to have him back for the playoff push.
Derek Nesbitt: With three assists last week, Nezzy became the Gladiators all-time leading point scorer. His record-breaking season has been a joy to watch. He leads the team in points this season with 49 (17g, 32a) and his experience will be vital this week.