SAVANNAH, Ga. – Early in the first period Michael Bullion made one of his save-of-the-year candidates as he careened back to glove a puck that trickled up and over his shoulder 1:04 into the game. His save on the night’s first shot set the pace for the Savannah Ghost Pirates as they faced the Atlanta Gladiators in this season’s final battle of Georgia. The Ghost Pirates emerged victorious from the quagmire and eked out a 4-3 win to close out the season series against the Gladiators.
Savannah’s first-period dominance began shortly after as Pat Guay continued his crusade for 20 goals in his inaugural professional year. Vincent Marleau and Alex Swetlikoff combined to bounce the puck from behind the net to a festering Guay in the slot, who found payday to open the scoring for the night. Currently, he sits at 18 total, with the addition of two goals he notched earlier in the year with Henderson.
Savannah was not done there. Flashing his skates, Daniel D’Amato showed Atlanta that he wanted it more as he corralled in a puck from Swetlikoff before weaving and slicing his way through the Atlanta defense like butter. Pulling up to the net, D’Amato elevated a puck to the stick side of Atlanta netminder Tyler Harmon to secure Savannah’s second goal.
“I wanted to get through there when I made that move. I was like if I am going to do this I need to make sure that I get through and I don’t turn the puck over. A little bit of will came into it; if I am making that move I got to make the most of it.” – D’Amato on his mindset going through that goal.
Throughout the first, Atlanta struggled with their passing. Most passing attempts from their club were wide of the mark or caught in traffic. The most notable failed pass attempt led to a Sang-Hoon Shin fan in a very dangerous slot opportunity while Atlanta was on a late first-period power play. That sequence was the only dangerous opportunity Atlanta mustered on that power play. After the unsuccessful man advantage, D’Amato continued to add pressure as he settled the puck in the neutral zone and slid the rubber over to Swetlikoff for a dangerous two-on-one opportunity to end the period in style.
Savannah followed up their dominant first with an equally clinical start to the second, but too many missed stretch passes led to four icings within five minutes. At the 7:40 mark of the second, you could tell that Atlanta was beginning to find their confidence once again as they held sustained offensive pressure on multiple presses. Atlanta was starting to look dangerous until Derek Topatigh took an untimely interference call in his offensive zone, which halted all momentum for Atlanta as it put Savannah on their first power play of the night.
The Ghost Pirates wasted no time, scoring 23 seconds into that power play as Marleau struck the back of the net from the left faceoff dot. This marks his seventh straight goal on home ice this season and notched him his second point of the night – an impressive feat as Marleau was activated from injured reserve earlier that day.
Atlanta continued to press on multiple sequences after their failed penalty kill as they attempted to claw their way back into this game. It seemed as if momentum was beginning to shift Atlanta’s route until the Savannah forward group rose again. A chip up the neutral zone from Swetlikoff helped silence the Gladiators when it sprung D’amato on a breakaway that he buried past Harmon.
In the final five minutes of the second frame, Savannah continually smothered Atlanta’s offensive opportunities, allowing minimal time in the offensive zone after any entry. Unfortunately for the Ghost Pirates, a late penalty by Ross Armour for tripping gave the Gladiators life once more as they used their man-advantage opportunity to squirt the puck past the left pad of Bullion.
In the final 30 seconds of the second, D’Amato activated once more. Another breakaway from him went inches left as he attempted to secure the hat trick through a slash by Bode Wilde. D’Amato earned a penalty shot to close the frame, and as the sold-out Savannah crowd was on their feet, he was stifled by one of Harmon’s best saves of the night.
The third period showed why hockey coaches everywhere always preach to play a full 60 minutes, as Atlanta gained two goals in a penalty-marred event of a third period. For a game that saw six penalties in its first 40 minutes, the third matched that intensity adding six more.
On the Gladiators’ first man advantage of the third, Topatigh released a shot from the point that Mike Pelech deflected for his second goal of the evening. Later in that period, Gabe Guertler took a tic-tac-toe play directly in front of the net from Billy Constantinou and Dylan Carabia.
GUERTS ! 🚨
ITS A ONE GOAL GAME!
4-3 SAV | 9:43 left in period three pic.twitter.com/egWFPUBIGT
— Atlanta Gladiators (@atlgladiators) April 1, 2023
Atlanta brought everything they had, minus the kitchen sink, to Savannah’s doorstep with three unanswered goals. A loss in regulation would be a huge slip for Atlanta’s playoff chances, and their third-period pressure was telling the story of a team who needed this victory. The Ghost Pirates were approaching survival mode in the final ten minutes of this match. That survival mode added extra pressure as Marleau took a late hooking penalty with 1:12 left in the game, and the Gladiators went from the 6-on-5 to the 6-on-4.
As time wound down, a flurry of shots came onto Bullion, forcing him to make three excellent saves to rob the Gladiators of the tying goal. In his final moments, Bullion made the best sequence of heroic saves since the first shot he faced, and the Ghost Pirates cleared the puck down the ice to ice out the final ticking seconds of regulation.
ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!
Michael Bullion with three big saves at the end and the GHOST PIRATES WIN! #TheHauntBegins pic.twitter.com/AoHpHqIyfo
— Savannah Ghost Pirates (@SavGhostPirates) April 1, 2023
With eight games left on the season, Savannah looks to continue and build on their recent successes as they begin their April stretch. After the game, I was able to speak to head coach Rick Bennett regarding what message he is preaching to this team as the season winds down:
“You’re playing for next year. Some of these guys are playing to try and make a spot in Henderson and have a good showing. Finish strong; show that you really improved throughout the year.” – Bennett
Continuing on, Bennett stated that he believed the resolve that Savannah showed in tonight’s game showcased just that about his hockey club and how much the Savannah players have improved throughout their season.
The Atlanta Gladiators look to finish out this three-game stretch back on track when they host the Florida Everblades for a back-to-back. On the other side, Savannah hopes to capitalize on recent successes as it travels up to Greenville to take on the Swamp Rabbits tomorrow evening.
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