Originally created 04/10/00

Lambert steps up in playoffs



There is nothing particularly exciting about the goaltending style of Judd Lambert. His personal take on his craft is equally dry.

Take, for example, his summation on how he again strapped the Augusta Lynx on his back and carried them to a 3-1 victory to stun the mighty Florida Everblades in Game 1 of the best-of-five Southern Conference quarterfinal playoff series Saturday night at TECO Arena.

"I was just trying to stop pucks," the 25-year-old Lambert said. "See the puck and stop it."

But this was much more than that.

Lambert made 48 saves Saturday as the Lynx took the upper hand in the series against the heavily-favored Everblades, who won the Brabham Cup as regular-season champions, establishing ECHL records for wins (53), points (108) and winning percentage (.771).

"Their goaltender stole the show," Everblades forward Tom Buckley told The News-Press of Fort Myers, Fla., following Saturday's game. "The spotlight was on us and (Lambert) took it away. I must have had 10 scoring chances myself."

"Your biggest fear is that you play well, but the other goaltender stands on his head and has a great game," Florida coach Bob Ferguson said. "He made a couple of great saves, we made a couple of mistakes and they scored a couple of goals. That's playoff hockey."

The mark of an outstanding goaltender is his ability to raise the level of his game during the postseason, and that's what Lambert has done.

In the Southern Conference Wild Card series vs. New Orleans, Lambert faced a ridiculous amount of shots, stopping 130 of 134 in the three games. What's more, in his final nine starts of the regular season, Lambert faced an average of 39 a game, going 7-1-1 during that stretch to lead the Lynx to a playoff berth.

After an exhausted Lambert turned away 38 shots in Friday's 5-2 win over the Brass in the decisive Game 3 of their wild-card series in New Orleans, the Lynx drove through the night for more than 12 hours, arriving in Fort Myers less than five hours before gametime on Saturday.

"We came in here as underdogs and didn't have a lot of energy after playing (seven games in nine days)," said Lambert, who has started 36 of Augusta's past 37 games. "But I think that made it easier for us, because we were able to just go out there relaxed. No pressure at all. We just played hockey.

They'll try the same approach again in Game 2 of the series tonight at TECO Arena, after taking a much-deserved day off Sunday.

"The goal coming in was to get a split out of here, and we've already assured ourselves of that," Lambert said. "If we win again (tonight), that's a bonus."

Lynx coach Dan Wiebe says Lambert's clutch performance was a huge lift.

"Judd was just unbelievable in net," Wiebe said. "As well as he's played for us all season, he's stepped his game up another notch here in the playoffs. When you've got a hot goaltender, anything is possible."

Now, with the Lynx guaranteed of two more games at home, with Games 3 and 4 of the series vs. Florida on Sunday and Monday at the Civic Center, what once seemed impossible is well within their reach.

"That was probably one of the more satisfying wins we've had this year," Lambert said. "To come in here and win Game 1 under the circumstances we were in was pretty big. But Florida's a great team, and it's a long series. We've got a long way to go."

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.