A late-game rally by the Macon Mayhem that included a pair of goals in the final four minutes, including the first professional goal of Travis Howe's career, was not enough to complete a comeback Thursday night at the Macon Coliseum in a 4-3 loss to Knoxville.
Trailing 4-1 in the closing minutes, the Mayhem drew within a goal with scores from Howe and Mark Rivera but were unable to tie the score. Macon led 1-0 early on before four Knoxville goals, including two in the second period, enabled the Ice Bears (25-19-5) to build a cushion that ended up being enough to come away with the victory.
The Mayhem (19-25-5) remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the SPHL, three points behind Louisiana and two in front of Columbus. Macon has seven games left in the regular season, and the next five are at home.
SIX WHO MATTERED
Howe: With the Mayhem taking advantage of an extra attacker on the ice, the Macon defenseman netted his first career professional goal when his shot from the point in traffic got past Knoxville goalie Brian Billett with 2:02 to play on a power play.
Daniel Gentzler: He got the Mayhem on the board first on a power play. His slap shot from the top after being set up by a Ryan Michel pass from the right corner made it 1-0.
Trevor Hertz: He registered two goals, both of which loomed large. In the second period, he put Knoxville out front 2-1 when his shot from the left after a pass from the right side by way of Dennis Sicard beat Bartus before he could knock the shot away. The Ice Bears led from that point on. In the third period, he skated in undeterred and crafted the puck into the net for a 4-1 lead with 17:14 to go in the game.
Corey Hale: His shot that got past Macon goalie Garrett Bartus with 10:16 left in the first period tied the game.
Garrett Vermeesch: His slap shot from the left side with 14:36 left in the second period made it a two-goal Knoxville lead.
Mark Rivera: He gave Macon some late-game momentum heading into the weekend with his third-period wrist shot that deflected off the post with less than four minutes to play to make it a two-goal game. Rivera has four goals since being acquired by Macon seven games ago.
Standings watch: Neither team closest to the Mayhem in the standings, Columbus and Louisiana, played Thursday. The only other game in the SPHL involved Mississippi and Fayetteville. Macon can pull within a point of Louisiana with a win over the Ice Gators on Friday, while Knoxville can help the Mayhem's postseason cause by beating Columbus on Saturday.
Tough foe: Knoxville, which has beaten Macon in all but one meeting this season, is among the hottest teams in the SPHL, having won six of its past seven.
Widespread attack: Knoxville spread out its offense in its effort to get shots past Bartus. The Ice Bears got their first three goals from three different players, while a different set of players assisted on each goal, as well.
THEY SAID IT
Howe on the late-game intensity: "We finished strong. This whole year, our third periods have really been our best periods. There was a lot of character in that last five minutes, for sure. But to win in this league, you have to have that for a full sixty minutes. If we don't have that, we won't win."
Macon head coach Kevin Kerr on the third-period comeback: "At the end of the day, we start kind of fast, tail off and then play with desperation when we're down. It's been like that all year. We have to play with desperation the whole game, and hopefully, it'll carry over to the weekend. It was a great effort in the third period, but we lost the game. At the end of the day, we have to find a way to win hockey games."
Kerr on the two goals allowed in the second period: "We can't get outbattled for pucks, and you have to get back to your own zone. We have communication that isn't there. If we can take care of our own zone, we'll be fine."
Macon continues its pursuit of a playoff spot at home this weekend, hosting Louisiana on Friday and Huntsville on Sunday.