Savannah, GA – The quickest way to ensure that no one remembers a team giving up a three-goal lead in regulation is to ensure that you still win the game. That is just what Savannah did in their final game at Gas South Arena in Atlanta; off the stick of Max Kaufman 2:10 into the overtime frame. Kaufman had a four-point night in Atlanta, but I am getting ahead of myself. Instead, let’s look at how we got to the point where an overtime hero was required.
Tonight marked the debut of Savannah’s newest roster addition, Cole Stallard, who was recently acquired from a trade with the Iowa Heartlanders. Stallard is a native of Woodstock, Georgia, and being back in his home state meant he had a small gathering of his friends and family at the game in Atlanta. He did not wait long to give them a show either, lighting the lamp right under the 10-minute mark into the first.
This year, the Gladiators have not spent much time trailing other clubs, and Eric Neiley reminded Savannah of that less than three minutes later as they equalized the score.
What Atlanta must not have counted on when doing that was a Savannah rookie with the last name Kaufman. Kaufman decided it was time to put on a show and was involved in every single Ghost Pirates goal for the remainder of the game, starting with this play in which he found Daniel D’Amato net front. D’Amato doing the rest went backhand to forehand before raising the puck into the top of the net over David Tendeck to end the scoring in a clean first period.
Yeah, it's nice to have Daniel D'Amato back.
We're up 2-1 after one! #TheHauntBegins pic.twitter.com/pYH7dX5kMO
— Savannah Ghost Pirates (@SavGhostPirates) February 5, 2023
Kaufman was not done there, however, as he committed highway robbery with a takeaway that turned into a breakaway for him when he lifted the puck over the shoulder of Tendeck early into the second period. Two minutes later, Kaufman wrapped the puck along the walls to Connor Corcoran, where Corcoran found a lurking Spencer Naas net-front who buried the rubber, giving Savannah a 4-1 lead early into the second period.
Atlanta found their footing after those two quick goals as Tyson Empey and Gabe Guertler notched two quick goals of their own. Both goals came off of Savannah turnovers. Empey received a pass from Reece Vitelli and took a quick wrist shot that sizzled past Isaiah Saville’s glove side. At the same time, Guertler put his opportunity past Saville immediately after the turnover.
Bench Boss Rick Bennett elected to take his timeout after the goal to settle his squad down, as they still had a one-goal lead. That lead stood for the entirety of the second period.
For most of this match, special teams did not play a factor in the game, as whenever one side took a penalty, the other club was kind enough to take a penalty simultaneously. However, towards the end of the second, Elijah Vilio took a double minor for high sticking that resulted in what was essentially a power play to end the second and a power play to start the third for the Gladiators. Savannah was able to kill off both, but giving Atlanta those opportunities was dangerous, given how good Atlanta’s power-play unit has been this season.
In the third, Savannah looked to attempt and outlast the Gladiators. Both teams had legitimate scoring chances, but Savannah held strong to their one-goal lead for most of the third. At one point, everyone watching believed that Savannah added the last nail in the coffin with a Peter DiLiberatore goal, but it hit the crossbar and stayed out. Either way, Atlanta was beginning to feel the pressure as the minutes ticked away. With 3:36 remaining in the third, Guertler calmed his team’s spirits with his second goal of the night, coming from a tap-in opportunity that sent this game into its overtime frame with both teams tied at four.
The overtime frame saw early actiys in which each goaltender was forced to step to continue the frame for their teams. Insert Kaufman, who must have remembered that Guertler scored twice this game and decided no one would show him up. Taking the puck at the goal line, Kaufman waited patiently to pick his moment, sliding the puck underneath Tendeck to take the victory for Savannah.
For a team that has had its struggles this season, especially in what has been dubbed the battle of Georgia series, Savannah will definitely be feeling good as they work their way back home. Taking a victory at the end of their weekend stretch allows them to enjoy it for a prolonged moment, as they will not be back on the ice until Thursday when the South Carolina Stingrays come to town. Atlanta will again defend their barn on Wednesday against the other South Carolina squad in the Greenville Swamp Rabbits.
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