Good morning, Snakes fans. Just finished up a big story for Sunday and now it's time to look back at last night's game in Louisiana.
This weekend held high hopes for the Snakes to launch a real rush up the SPHL ladder. They're in fifth place right now and the 1st 4 teams get home ice advantage during the playoffs.
Home ice wasn't such a big deal last year. The Cottonmouths finished second and secured home ice throughout the playoffs after Augusta was knocked out. They also had a road record of 17-8-3 along with tons of confidence. The team ended the regular season on a roll with an 11-3 record in the season's final 14 games.
This year is a different story. The Snakes are 1-3-1 in their last 5 games. During this stretch, they scored a single goal once and were shut out twice. Only Matt Gingera (6 points in 5 GP) has put up a significant number of points.
The Cottonmouths were taking on a team whose number 1 goalie was just called up to the ECHL. Louisiana is a team that's bouncing back and forth between first and second place in the extremely tight SPHL standings. At this moment, Louisiana has a nice four-point lead over Fayetteville, a little breathing room thanks to last night. The IceGators gained 2 points with their win over the Snakes and Fayetteville lost to Knoxville, so the FireAntz watched the Gators pull a little further ahead.
Speaking of Knoxville, the Snakes are battling the Ice Bears for that all-important 4th slot. With their win over Fayetteville, the Bears are now 3 points ahead of Columbus. The Snakes are below .500 on the road this year, 10-12 right now. Last season they told me they believed they could win anywhere...and they did.
Last night, they got off to a great start, thanks to Levi Lind. On nearly identical plays, Levi scored a pair of first-period goals when Louisiana Kirk Byczynski coughed up the puck, Jordan Braid, on the first one, and Matt Gingera on the second, grabbed it and fired it to Levi, who buried it. Twice in just over 8 minutes and the Snakes had a 2-0 lead. Since offense has been hard to come by lately, I was feeling pretty good that they had 2 goals already.
By the end of the first, the IceGators tied it with 2 goals, one on the power play. The PP gained 2 goals for the Gators last night in 9 tries, while the Snakes scored 1 PPG in 5 tries. Note the disparity in the PPs, double for the Gators. Not that the Snakes didn't have their chances.
Louisiana managed only 7 SOG in the second, but one found its mark. On only their second SOG at the 7:02 mark, the Gators went ahead. But give the Snakes credit, they kept battling. Corey Bellamy tied it up 3-3 and it's anybody's game going into the last period.
Mark Thorburn was called for interference with only 19 seconds left in the second period, so LA started the 3rd on the PP. On their first rush of the period, only 5 seconds in, Shawn MacNeil's long wrister got by Ian Vigier for a 4-3 lead. Stunning...but the Snakes came back with a PPG of their own. Matt tied it 4-4 just after a 5-on-3 expired, but a PPG nonetheless. New game...again.
Louisiana scored the game winner in a 4-on-4 situation with Robert Short in the penalty box for elbowing and Tom Maldonado for slashing. 5-4 with just over 3 minutes to play. As you know, that ended up being the final.
The irony I can't get past is that the guys finally put up 4 goals, which is a good number anytime, but especially when you're struggling offensively, and still lose.
It should be a wild ride the next few weeks.