The Columbus Cottonmouths' special teams weren't special at all Saturday night as the Snakes dropped a 4-2 decision to the Pensacola Ice Flyers at The Columbus Civic Center to break a seven-game winning streak.
"The referees don't win or lose games, but I do feel like they had an impact tonight," said Columbus coach Jerome Bechard, whose team gave up three power-play goals in six chances and went 0-for-7 on the power play. "We can't go 0-for-7 and expect to win, but their first power play goal came on a bad bounce and the second one came after a call that never should have been made. They had us on our heels, but we made adjustments and played better in the second and third periods and deserved better than the outcome, but that happens sometimes."
The Snakes (28-16-2) - who lost at home for the first time in their last six outings - are back in a three-way tie for second place with Mississippi and Pensacola with 58 points. The trio is one point ahead of fifth-place Knoxville, which has 57 points.
Pensacola dominated the first period, outshooting the Snakes, 17-6, and getting two power play goals from Adam Pawlick to own a 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes.
"We have to change up what we're doing a little bit," said Bechard. "(Pensacola) came out doing some different things than we expected and we made some changes. It's a matter of knowing when the right time to jump up and force the play is."
Columbus made adjustments to its game and came back in the second period. Chris Bailer snapped a six-game pointless drought with a goal at 4:20 off assists from Bryce Williamson and Matt Gingera. Just over nine minutes later, Williamson got his fourth goal in the last two games when he scored off an assist from Levi Lind to tie the game at 2.
Columbus had three other chances in the period to score a goal, but a missed penalty shot and two goals that were waved off by referee Steve Thomson - one for goalie interference and another because the whistle was blown before the puck crossed the goal line - kept the score all knotted up.
The Snakes' penalty-killing woes continued late in the period as Pawlick completed his hat trick with another power-play goal at 15:35 to give the Ice Flyers a 3-2 lead going into the third period. Columbus has killed only 10 of its 17 short-handed opportunities in the last three games, a woeful 58.8 penalty kill percentage.
The Snakes had three power-play opportunities in the third period, but were unable to convert any of them and Bret Beebe sealed the victory for the Ice Flyers (26-14-6) with an empty-net goal with 38 seconds remaining.
Max Strang stopped 27 of the Snakes' 29 shots to pick up the win in goal, while Andrew Loewen took the loss for the Snakes, making 32 saves on 35 shots and snapping a three-game winning streak.
Pawlick finished with his hat trick plus an assist, Corey Banfield had three assists and Beebe had a goal and an assist for the Ice Flyers. Williamson (1 goal, 1 assist) was the only Columbus player to finish with multiple points.
Columbus and Pensacola meet again in the second of four straight meetings Thursday at The Columbus Civic Center with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop.
"It's basically a four-game playoff series," said Bechard. "We just have to come back and win the playoff series."
Note: The Snakes signed F Ben O'Quinn to a regular contract Friday. O'Quinn had two goals, an assist and was plus-4 during his three-game tryout that ended with Thursday's 6-4 victory over Fayetteville.
Saturday at the Columbus Civic Center
Pensacola 2 1 1 — 4
Columbus 0 2 0 — 2
First Period—1, Pawlick, Pen (pp) (Banfield), 9:12. 2, Pawlick, Pen (pp) (Bergin, Banfield), 13:22. Penalties—Blair, Pen (holding), 1:23; Gingera, Col (high sticking), 9:05; Bates, Col (boarding), 12:08; Switzer, Col game misconduct (abuse of officials), 12:08; Willigar, Col (fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:31; Puskar, Pen (fighting, unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:31; Williamson, Col (tripping), 17:55.
Second Period—3, Bailer, Col (Williamson, Gingera), 4:20. 4, Williamson, Col (Lind), 12:39. 5, Pawlick (pp) (Beebe, Lutes), 15:35. Penalties—Blair, Pen (tripping), 0:15; Curry, Col (hooking), 1:43; Blair, Pen (tripping), 5:06; Lazorko, Pen (slashing), 8:50; Simchuk, Col (roughing), 13:55.
Third Period—6, Beebe, Pen (en) (Pawlick, Banfield), 19:22. Penalties—Bailer, Col (slashing), 4:48; Larson, Pen (slashing), 5:56; Arnott, Pen (roughing), 8:45; Arvai, Pen (slashing), 14:22; Belisle, Col (slashing), 16:35; Beebe, Pen (roughing), 16:35.
Shots on Goal—Pensacola 17-9-12—38. Columbus 6-14-9—29.
Power-play opportunities—Pensacola 3 of 6; Columbus 0 of 7.
Goalies—Pensacola, Strang 24-10-5 (29 shots-27 saves). Columbus, Loewen 16-8-1 (37-34).
Referees—Stephen Thomson. Linesmen—Neil Campbell, Richard Kuerston.