CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It was only fitting the Augusta Lynx needed to come from behind Saturday night to complete one of the most remarkable comebacks in ECHL history.
Frustrated by a stalwart Charlotte Checkers defense and goalie Scott Bailer for more than two periods, the Lynx rallied to pull out a 2-1 shootout victory before 5,187 fans at Independence Arena, nailing down a playoff berth on the next-to-last day of the regular season.
Sam Ftorek's sixth goal of the season with 11:08 left in regulation tied the game 1-1, Sandy Lamarre netted the game-winning goal in the overtime shootout, and goalie Judd Lambert stopped four of Charlotte's six chances in the shootout to cap their incredible turnaround.
"We accomplished what we set out to do, which is just a big accomplishment for our team," said Lambert, who made his 32nd consecutive start Saturday, and recorded 19 saves.
"For our team to come from however many points back that we were with however little time we had left is remarkable. Ask me a few months ago if we could have done this, and I probably would have said we couldn't. We showed a lot of character down the stretch."
After losing 21 of their first 32 games, the Lynx have won 24 of their past 36 games to go from Southern Conference laughingstocks to a team that nobody wants to play come Monday, when the conference Wild Card playoff round begins.
The Lynx improved to 34-31-4, while Charlotte concludes its season at 25-38-7.
"It's been a long battle," said left winger Dean Tiltgen, who was held scoreless on Saturday, but has been one of the keys to Augusta's second-half surge.
"We were to the point where a lot of people wrote us off, but to have the second half of the year we did is very gratifying. It took a lot of hard work and dedication, so when you accomplish something like this, it feels really good."
As Charlotte's Martin Cerven fired wide of the net on the final shootout attempt which gave the Lynx the win, the bench erupted in celebration as more than 250 Lynx fans who made the trip from Augusta also basked in the moment.
Lamarre, who saluted the Lynx fans after his shootout goal, said the support was overwhelming.
"They came out here and cheered us on and were louder than the home crowd here," said Lamarre, whose goial was his 18th of the season.
"They stuck behind us the whole time, and I just wanted to show the same consideration to them. That goal was for them, too."
More importantly, the goal saved the Lynx from having to play a do-or-die game today against South Carolina at home in the regular-season finale. With Jackson's win over Arkansas on Saturday, a loss to Charlotte would have put them in a must-win today.
"You don't want to have to play that game (today) if you have to, so we wanted to make sure our guys kept believing when we got down and kept working hard," Lynx coach Dan Wiebe said. "We had to find a way to win tonight. Character teams do that, and we did tonight. It's definitely a bit of a relief to know that we're finally in."
Just like the season, Saturday was an uphill battle all the way.
After being shutout by Lambert in back-to-back games, the Checkers came out on Saturday and finally broke their drought, taking a 1-0 lead on Kurt Seher's eighth goal at 10:21.
Seher threw in what a harmless backhanded shot from the left circle, but the puck deflected off Dan Kopec's stick and past Lambert. It was the Checkers' first goal on Lambert in more than 152 minutes.
Coming off an emotional 8-6 win Friday night in Jacksonville, the Lynx looked sluggish for most of the second period, but they managed to escape still down only 1-0.
During one stretch midway through the second period, the Lynx did a good job working the puck down low, but the few quality scoring chances they did have were turned aside by Bailey.
Fortunately, they also kept Charlotte's scoring chances to a minimum, and Lambert made several nice saves to keep it a 1-0 game heading into the final stanza.
The Lynx seemed to pick up the intensity to start the third period, and the hard work paid off when Ftorek finished a 2-on-1 when he took a nice feed from Stacey Rayan at the left circle and blasted a one-timer past Bailey. It was Ftorek's second goal in as many games, and certainly one of the biggest of his Lynx career.
"It's great to see Sammy contributing," Wiebe said. "He was struggling a bit and has been in and out of the lineup, but has been playing well the past few games. I think that typifies our team this year. Everybody's working hard and contributing right now."
The Lynx announced after the game that playoff tickets would go on sale today at 10 a.m. Dates and opponents for the first round of the ECHL playoffs will be announced today.
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