ESTERO, Fla. -- The Gwinnett Gladiators (41-20-7-4) dropped a 5-2 decision to the Florida Everblades (39-26-2-5) on Saturday night at the Germain Arena in the regular season finale of the 2011-12 season. Gwinnett opens the 2012 Kelly Cup Playoffs on the road on Tuesday night.
For the second straight night, the Florida Everblades jumped out to 2-0 lead on the Gladiators with a pair of goals 35 seconds apart late in the first period. Leigh Salters finished a 4-on-2 break slipping the puck past Gwinnett netminder Ryan Zapolski with 2:49 left in the period for the first marker. Trevor Bruess and Matt Beca collected the helpers on the goal.
David Rutherford ripped a snapshot from the left wing circle past Zapolski to push the Everblades lead to 2-0 with 2:14 remaining in the period. Brayden Irwin had a helper on the goal pushing the puck up the left wing to a streaking Rutherford on the play.
The Gladiators and Everblades exchanged goals in the second period with Gwinnett cutting the Florida lead in half with 62 seconds into the frame. Doug Jones potted his third goal of the season as he ripped a snapshot past Pat Nagle for the goal. Justin Milo and Will Colbert collected the helpers on the marker for Gwinnett.
The Everblades answered to regain the two goal lead at 11:36 of the second period. Matt Marquardt beat Zapolski over the glove from the left wing circle off a feed from Sebastien Piche. Slaters had an assist for his second point of the night.
Gwinnett again cut the lead to one goal with Andy Brandt's 16th goal of the season. Brandt found a loose puck in the slot and flipped it past Nagle to cut the lead to one just 57 seconds into the third period. Dallas Jackson and Pat Galivan posted the assists on the goal for Gwinnett.
Florida answered with a pair of goals over the final 19 minutes to put the Gladiators away. Irwin posted the first of the two goals 12:11 into the period and then Ratchuk added the Everblades fifth marker of the game at 15:35 of the third.
Gwinnett went 0-for-6 on the power play in the loss while the Everblades were 0-for-2 on the man advantage. Zapolski finished with 27 saves in the losing effort for Gwinnett.