TIt was clear, at first, that the main attraction Wednesday night was the emotionally charged return of Chris Thompson.
Ironically enough, it ended up a battle of goaltending, which was the basis for the controversy that engulfed the Augusta Lynx the past three days.
Greensboro veteran Sergei Naumov turned in a remarkable 58-save performance, but in the end, the night belonged to the Lynx and new goalie Erasmo Saltarelli. Louis Dumont scored the game-winning goal for the Lynx with 1:06 left in the 4-on-4 overtime session to pull out an exciting 3-2 victory over the Greensboro Generals.
"It's been a stressful last couple of days for all of us, and I'm glad it's over," said Lynx coach Scott MacPherson, who pulled the trigger on the unpopular trade that sent Thompson and rookie goalie J.R. Prestifilippo to Greensboro for Saltarelli.
"It was nice to see Erasmo make the saves he was supposed to make and nice to see us get a win tonight. One game doesn't make a year, but hopefully this is a good start."
While Naumov did his best to upstage the principles in Monday's trade by facing a Lynx franchise-record 61 shots, his former backup was impressive in his Augusta debut. Saltarelli recorded 29 saves in the victory, improving his record to 5-2-0.
"There was pressure for me playing my first game against my old team more than anything else," Saltarelli said. "It was exciting and nerve-wracking playing against them, and you obviously want to do well. Fortunately, the guys played a great game tonight, and we got a win. It's a relief to get the first win."
Dumont ended the contest with his sixth goal of the year, while Jonas Soling scored his 14th to pull into a tie for the ECHL lead. Peter Nylander, who played his best game as a Lynx, also scored for Augusta, his second goal of the year.
"There was a lot of emotions out there tonight, and I think everyone's glad it's over," Soling said. "It was good for us to get a win and get this behind us. It wasn't easy seeing Thomper go, but I think we got a good goalie in Erasmo, and he played a good game tonight."
But Naumov, known as the "Great Wall of Latvia," was the embodiment of his nickname and almost beat the Lynx singlehandedly.
The save of the night came with about two minutes left in regulation, when the 31-year-old Naumov went into a double-stack to rob Soling at the doorstep.
"He was great tonight, and I think he wanted to show everyone why they didn't trade him," Saltarelli said. "He's a good goalie."
But despite another near third-period collapse when they blew a 2-0 lead, the Lynx (7-10-2) salvaged their second victory in nine games, ending a two-game losing skid. The loss for Greensboro (7-12-3) extended its winless streak to 10 games (0-7-3).
The scoreless first period was boring in terms of offense, but the Thompson sideshow certainly gave the fans - many of whom held up pro-Thompson and anti-MacPherson banners - plenty of bang for their buck.
As he lined up for the opening faceoff, Thompson got tied up with Nylander and nearly tripped him up with his stick. And at the midway point of the period, he drilled Denis Chervyakov with a booming hit in the corner, knocking off the Lynx defenseman's helmet.
Then, as Thompson emerged from the corner, he tangled with Lynx captain Scott Morrow in the slot area, and the two traded shoves before skating away without further incident.
Thompson saluted the crowd as fans gave him a standing ovation when he exited the ice at the end of the opening stanza, but before long, the Lynx and Saltarelli gave their faithful something to cheer about.
Soling opened the scoring when he banged home a rebound on a power play at 3:25 of the second period, and Nylander scored his second goal of the year at the 12:18 mark to make it 2-0. The 40 shutout minutes by Saltarelli marked the first time this season the Lynx have held the opposition scoreless through two periods.
But another third-period letdown opened the door for the Generals, who tied it 2-2 with goals by Lukas Smital at 4:23, his team-leading 12th of the year, and Joel Irwin's ninth at 6:29. Smital's came on a rebound, and Irwin's went off sliding Lynx defenseman Tom O'Connor.
Saltarelli and the Lynx settled down and got it to overtime, where defenseman Cal Benazic intercepted a Greensboro pass at center ice and fed it to Dumont, who ripped a blast from the right circle for the game-winner.
Afterward, Thompson reflected on a tough few days.
"It was hard coming back here, and I wish the result was different," said Thompson, who was greeted by more than 50 fans as he left the civic center. "I had a lot of things going through my head tonight, a lot of emotions. I'm glad it's over."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.