Scoring a hat trick is a special achievement for any player, but Matt Gingera's picked up a whole team.
The Columbus Cottonmouths officially launched their push for the SPHL playoffs with a 5-0 shutout of visiting Fayetteville before a raucous crowd of 3,572 at the Columbus Civic Center.
The Snakes spent one day in ninth place after losing to Fayetteville on Tuesday. The league's top eight teams enter postseason play. One game on the outside looking in was enough.
"I watch the standings," Gingera said. "I look every day. In the back of my mind when I saw us in ninth place was that we shouldn't be there."
Gingera is playing his second season for the Snakes. He scored hat tricks in back-to-back games in mid-January of 2013, a month after joining the team. This one was even more special, as Gingera broke a personal four-game scoring drought.
"It was not just good for the team," Gingera said. "I was struggling. Before the game we knew we were going to have a good game. It was nice to see all three lines going and nice to play a full 60 minutes. We haven't done that many games."
The Gingera-Sam Bowles-Jordan Draper line contributed three goals and three assists.
The power play entered the contest as the league's fifth best, with only a 17.1 percent success rate. Against the FireAntz, the Snakes converted two of three chances to improve to 17.78 percent.
Preston Shupe chipped in one power-play goal and one assist.
"Getting the power play to contribute is huge," Shupe said. "We're a good team five-on-five, but if we can win the special teams battle it will be good, especially in crunch time."
Andrew Loewen stopped all 34 shots he faced to notch his third shutout of the season. Loewen lowered his goals-against average to 2.90 and increased his save percentage to .910.
"Tonight a lot of little things were done right," Loewen said. "The forwards and defensemen both crashed the net and cleared rebounds. We got the goal scorers going, which we need. Tuesday night was tough. We could have won but we didn't deserve to win."
Levi Lind moved back to defense to replace Chris Bailer, who missed his third straight game after aggravating a nagging injury. Bailer's return date is uncertain.
"Levi filled the void on defense," Loewen said. "He did a really good job back there."
The Snakes scored first, with Gingera's first goal at the 4:07 mark of the opening period and went on to take a comfortable 3-0 lead after the opening period.
"We love playing at home," Shupe said. "It's great to score first and get our fans into it."
The Snakes and FireAntz hit the road for the rematch in Fayetteville to,night.
It will be the third time the two teams have met five days. Fayetteville won the first round, 3-2 on Tuesday at home. The Snakes return home on Sunday afternoon to meet the Mississippi RiverKings.
The Snakes moved into a tie for seventh place with Knoxville. The Cottonmouths and Ice Bears have 39 points, one point ahead of Fayetteville and five ahead of Bloomington.
Fayetteville 0 0 0--0
Columbus 3 1 1--5
First period--1, Columbus, Gingera (Draper) 4:07; 2, Columbus,Willigar (Aide, Shupe) 10:34 PPG; 3, Columbus, Gingera (Draper, Bowles) 11:25. Penalties--Allan, Columbus (10-minute misconduct, equipment violation) 7:23; Carriveau, Fayetteville (holding) 9:55.
Second period--4, Columbus, Gingera (Willigar) 9:09. Penalties--Gray, Columbus (tripping) 16:57; Lange, Fayetteville (diving) 16:57.
Third period--5, Columbus, Shupe (Lind, Allan) 14:39 PPG. Penalties--Gingera, Columbus (hooking) 3:34; Bremner, Columbus (cross-checking) 8:15; Gray, Columbus (interference) 10:08; Carriveau,Fayetteville (boarding) 14:06; Ridley, Fayetteville (holding) 16:51; Aide, Columbus (fighting)
18:48; Recio, Fayetteville (fighting) 18:48.
Shots on goal: Fayetteville 14 14 6 --34
Columbus 14 10 18 --42
Goaltenders: Loewen (win) 60:00 34 34 0; Skoggard (loss) 29:09 20 16 4; Carlson 22 21 1.
Power plays: Fayetteville 0 of 3; Columbus 2of 3. Referee: Howard. Linesmen: Keurston, Meacham. Time: 2:22. Attendance: 3572.