The road to the Kelly Cup begins tonight in New Orleans.
The Augusta Lynx will face the New Orleans Brass in a best-of-three Southern Conference Wild Card playoff series.
Game 1 of the series will be played tonight at New Orleans Arena, with Game 2 scheduled for Wednesday night at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.
Game 3, if necessary, will be played in New Orleans on Friday.
The Lynx closed out the regular season with a 2-1 shotoout loss at home to South Carolina, finishing 10th in the Southern Conference with a 34-31-5 record.
Augusta won 24 of its final 36 games to complete a remarkable turnaround, as the Lynx clinched their second straight ECHL playoff berth with Saturday's 2-1 shootout win at Charlotte.
New Orleans (36-27-7) closed out the regular season with a 3-0 win over Jackson on Sunday, finishing seventh in the conference.
Had Mississippi defeated Mobile on Sunday, the Lynx would have faced the Sea Wolves in the Wild Card. But Mobile rallied to tie the game 2-2 late in the third period and won in a shootout, which dropped Mississippi to the No. 8 seed in the conference.
"It doesn't really matter to guys in the room who we're playing," Lynx captain Dan Kopec said. "We've been on a roll for a while and playing some great hockey. We're playing with a lot of confidence and feel there isn't any team out there right now that we can't handle."
The Lynx boarded their bus early Sunday evening and began the 10-hour ride to Biloxi, still not knowing if they would face the Sea Wolves or the New Orleans Brass.
The team planned to stay in Biloxi regardless of their opponent, because there are limited hotel rooms available in New Orleans.
Because of scheduling conflicts with the New Orleans Arena, Game 1 had to played tonight, requiring the Brass to secure a special waiver from the Professional Hockey Players Association, which generally does not allow its players to play more than three games in three nights.
Tonight will be the Lynx's and Brass' fourth game in as many nights.
In the other Wild Card series, South Carolina (35-25-10) will face the Baton Rouge Kingfish (33-32-5) -- who clinched the final playoff spot in the Southern Conference on Sunday -- while Pensacola (35-29-6) will take on Mississippi (35-27-8).
Center Lars Pettersen was held scoreless in his final two games to fall short of reaching the 100-point plateau, but his 93 points is good for third in the ECHL, behind Louisiana's John Spoltore (118) and Toledo's Andrew Williamson (100).
The 23-year-old Pettersen ends the season tied for the team lead in goals, with 31, and a team-high 62 assists.
With a goal on Sunday, his 31st of the season and 22nd since Jan. 7, left winger Dean Tiltgen finishes his first season with the Lynx tied for the team lead in goals with linemate Pettersen.
The 31 goals also is an Augusta franchise record. Darren Colbourne scored 30 goals for the Lynx last season. Colbourne also holds the Augusta/Raleigh franchise mark for scoring, with 101 points with the IceCaps in 1996-97.
Goalie Judd Lambert also shattered many of the franchise records he set last season, including wins (27), games (54), minutes (3086:21), saves (1,676) and save percentage (.913). Lambert ends the season 27-23-4 with a 3.09 goals-against average.
Wherever the road takes the Lynx in the playoffs, they're making sure they have Tom "Tatters" Walsh along for the ride.
The 72-year-old Walsh, a Martinez resident and retired filtration engineer, works part time with the team as an assistant to trainer Brian Patafie.
The native of Greenwich, Conn. -- a longtime hockey fan who also plays in the adult league at the IceForum -- started going on road trips with the team in February, and has been adopted by the players as a mascot and good-luck charm.
Since Walsh started traveling with the team, the have gone 8-1-1 on the road.
"He has no choice on whether or not he wants to go with us on the road anymore," Patafie said. "If Tatters didn't want to go, we'd kidnap him."
Before the game, Lambert was presented with the Fans' Choice award as the team's most popular player.
Fans were asked to vote for their favorite player at a recent game, and team officials said more than 2,000 votes were tallied.
"I'm flattered," Lambert said. "I definitely didn't expect that."
Captain Dan Kopec took the honor last season.
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