Playing their fourth game in a week, the Augusta RiverHawks fell victim to a surging opposition and failed to gain ground in the playoff chase.
The Knoxville Ice Bears took a large lead early en route to a 4-2 win over the RiverHawks on Sunday night at Augusta Ice Sports Center.
With the loss, Augusta
(17-28-4) remains six points back of Huntsville for the final playoff spot with seven games left.
Knoxville (29-18-3) moved to 4-1 in its past five games, including a 4-3 win at Augusta on March 5. The RiverHawks are 2-7-1 against the Ice Bears this season.
“It would’ve been nice to gain ground,” RiverHawks coach Mark Richards said. “Thursday is basically our season now. It may not be technically, but psychologically it is. We need the win Thursday.”
The RiverHawks saw several opportunities early in the game but failed to put across a goal in the first period. The Ice Bears were outshot in the period but found net with 36 seconds left in the first on a goal by Peter Neal.
The floodgates opened in the second period, as the two teams combined for four goals. Knoxville’s Nate Peterson and Brett Valliquette scored within a minute of each other at the 7- and 6-minute marks, giving the Ice Bears a 3-0 lead.
But the RiverHawks stormed back on two power-play goals late in the period to cut the lead to 3-2 after two periods. Marcus Pryde and Kyle Watson scored the goals, each within 3 minutes left. Watson’s goal was his 13th on the season, second-most among active RiverHawks.
The Ice Bears halted the RiverHawks’ momentum with stingy defense in the third period, limiting Augusta to a team-low eight shot attempts. Despite just four attempts from the Ice Bears in the final period, Matt Pierce added an insurance goal for Knoxville midway through for a two-goal advantage.
“I thought we were going to win the game after coming back to within one, but they held us off,” Richards said. “They came out strong. They were playing their third game in three days, so there’s no excuses.”
Augusta’s final game against Huntsville is at home Thursday. The Havoc lost to the Mississippi RiverKings 4-1 on Saturday, keeping the RiverHawks alive for their final meeting.