The Columbus Cottonmouths took on the visiting Louisiana IceGators in a possible playoff preview before a crowd of 1,643 at the Columbus Civic Center Sunday.
In a seesaw battle, the Snakes came from behind twice to post a 5-4 victory in their regular season home finale, snapping a three-game losing streak.
The Gators (69 points) are currently in second place behind only Pensacola (77), which has clinched the regular-season title. Louisiana has a six-point lead over third-place Peoria.
The Snakes (55) are sitting in seventh place in the SPHL standings, six points ahead of the Mississippi Surge and two points behind Knoxville (57).
The Cottonmouths end the regular season on the road next weekend at Biloxi against the Surge and Huntsville against the Havoc. There is no SPHL action on Sunday, so the playoff pairings will be determined late Saturday night.
If the season ended today, the Snakes and Gators would tangle in first-round action. As the higher seed, Louisiana would enjoy home ice advantage, hosting game one, followed by game two in Columbus in the best-of-three series.
In regular-season action, the Snakes are 3-2 against Louisiana, winning once on the road and twice at home. It is a match-up that the players believe is a favorable one.
"I think we match up pretty well," veteran defenseman Tom Maldonado said. "They are a great team, but we've seen them enough to know their tendencies."
Forward Sam Bowles agreed with Maldonado.
"We stack up well against them," Bowles said. "They are a good team but we are more disciplined. The question is who will stay out of the box."
Capitalizing on the IceGators' penalties was a key to the Snakes' victory on Sunday. They scored a whopping four times on the power play and tallied only one even strength goal.
"We went back and forth with the power play," Bowles said. "Both teams capitalized."
Jordan Draper was the offensive star, scoring four goals and adding an assist. Draper and linemate Matt Gingera have a friendly competition going. Gingera, who scored a goal on Sunday, leads the Snakes in scoring with 52 points and Draper is right behind him with 51. Gingera scored a career-high five goals against the Mississippi Surge on Feb. 28.
"Matt asked me after the game: 'You only got four?' ", Draper said. "Everybody came to play tonight. We had a little letdown, but they were tired. They were playing their third in three and had just come from Fayetteville."
The Snakes had to come from behind twice. They fell into an early 2-0 hole, tied it up 2-2, then had to rebound from a 4-2 deficit.
"We had to stick to the game plan," Bowles said. "We found ourselves down 4-2 and had to come back, but we'd already done it once."
The power play was clicking this weekend, as the Snakes scored on seven of their 15 chances.
"We talked a lot about the power play this week," Maldonado said. "One thing lacking was a sense of urgency. We fixed that the last two games."
Louisiana 1 1 2--4
Columbus 0 2 3--5
First period--1, Louisiana, Grant (Braid, McNeil) 9:01 PPG. Penalties--Aide, Columbus (fighting) :02; Barr, Louisiana (fighting) :02; Gray, Columbus (hooking) 7:57; Barr, Louisiana (interference) 9:14; Columbus, bench minor (too many men) 10:17; Brown, Louisiana (slashing) 13:01; Aide, Columbus (fighting) 16:21; Barr, Louisiana (fighting) 16:21.
Second period--2, Louisiana, McNeil (Stuart, K. Byczynski) 2:23 PPG; 3, Columbus, Draper (Gray, Bowles) 5:27 PPG; 4, Columbus, Draper (Gray, Bowles) 5:27 PPG. Penalties--Maldonado, Columbus (interference) 1:25; Arcibal, Columbus (unsportsmanlike conduct) 1:25; Burton, Louisiana (interference) 3:12; K. Byczynski, Louisiana (hooking) 5:01; McNeil, Louisiana (unsportsmanlike conduct) 5:01; Wilson, Louisiana (kneeing) 7:28; Bremner, Columbus (hooking) 10:03; Braid, Louisiana (tripping) 14:55; Shupe, Columbus (slashing) 17:48; K. Byzczynski, Louisiana (interference) 19:20.
Third period--5, Louisiana, Stuart (McNeil, Burton) 2:35; 6, Louisiana, Boyer (unassisted) 3:25; 7, Columbus, Gingera (Draper, Maldonado) 5:51 PPG; 8, Columbus, Draper (Maldonado) 14:05 PPG; 9, Columbus, Draper (Bowles) 14:11.
Shots on goal: Louisiana 7 10 6--23
Columbus 13 19 8--40
Power plays: Columbus 4 of 10; Louisiana 2 of 9.
Goaltenders: Loewen (win) 60:00 23 19 4; Smiley (loss) 18:37 40 35 5.
Referee: MacDougall. Linesmen: Madsen, Rawn.