It's official: the Augusta Lynx are back in business.
Their playoff hopes left for dead around this time last week, the Lynx suddenly are a team reborn, riding the wave of their first three-game winning streak of the season.
For the second straight night, the short-staffed Lynx defeated the Charlotte Checkers at home, scoring a come-from-behind 5-4 victory before a fired-up crowd of 5,901 fans at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.
"They don't want to seem to make anything easy on me, but that's quite a thing when a team battles back and never quits like they did," said coach Jim Burton, whose Lynx meet the Checkers for a third game in Charlotte tonight.
"We knew if we kept banging away, we felt we were in better shape than that hockey club over there, and I think our conditioning work the past month is paying dividends."
Two goals in 11 seconds by Dean Tiltgen at the end of the second period made it a hockey game, while a two-goal, five-point performance by captain Scott Morrow and some huge saves by Judd Lambert helped put the Lynx over the top.
Likit Andersson and Sandy Lamarre also scored one goal apiece, including Lamarre's game-winner with 9:30 left in the contest. It was the first lead the Lynx had all evening. They had to overcome deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3.
As important as each victory is these days as the race for the 10th and final playoff spot in the Southern Conference heats up, Friday's win was another huge confidence builder for the Lynx, who improved to 20-23-5.
Many of the players have pointed to Tuesday's 6-5 shootout win on the road over Pensacola as a potential turning point to their season. The victory snapped a six-game winless skid (0-5-1) and restored their confidence.
Friday's win could move them another step closer to getting back into contention. The Lynx began the night just six points behind Jackson and Greenville for 10th place in the conference.
Augusta also continued its dominance over the Checkers. The victory improved their record vs. the Checkers to 11-1-0 the past three seasons, including a perfect 7-0-0 mark at home.
Tested early and often, Lambert came through with an assortment of fine saves to prevent what could have been a Charlotte rout. The Checkers (25-16-10), however, grabbed a 1-0 lead after one period, thanks to a Tyler Deis goal on a 2-on-1 6:45 into the contest.
Another 2-on-1 rush led to the Checkers' second goal, as Scott King - the ECHL's leading scorer with 73 points entering the contest - went top shelf to beat Lambert just 1:21 into the second.
Morrow made it a contest again at 14:01 of the second with his 19th goal of the year. It took a remarkable individual effort by the veteran winger, who corralled a rebound off the end boards, spun around in the slot amid heavy traffic and slipped a backhanded shot past Labarbera.
But King - the son of Columbus Blue Jackets coach Dave King - silenced the crowd and reclaimed the momentum just 1:55 later, giving the Checkers a 3-1 lead with his second goal of the night.
The tally was a controversial one, though, as a linesman waved off what appeared to be an icing call on Charlotte. Everyone in the building, including the Lynx players on the ice, expected a whistle. But a hustling Scott Wray picked up the puck behind the net and threw it out front to King.
But for the second time this week, the Lynx refused to quit. Tiltgen's two goals late in the period gave his team life once again.
That life nearly was sucked from them at the four-minute mark of the third period, when Charlotte's Kevin Hilton ripped a shot from inside the left point that beat Lambert. But referee Lance Dysievick immediately waved it off for goaltender interference, and the game remained tied at 3.
The tie was broken a few minutes later, as Paul Giblin banged home a rebound on a power play, giving the Checkers a 4-3 lead at 5:54 of the final period, but the Lynx would fight back again to tie it at 4 on Andersson's sixth goal of the year at 7:32.
NOTES: The Lynx signed forward Andrew Rodgers on Friday. The 25-year-old played for teams in the Central, United and Western Pro leagues last season, including 28 with the CHL's Macon Whoopee, where he racked up 248 penalty minutes. The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder began the season in training camp with the Louisiana IceGators of the ECHL but was injured during camp and retired. ... Wes Swinson reinjured his right shoulder in Thursday's victory over the Checkers and did not dress Friday night. The 25-year-old defenseman suffered a shoulder separation in January, forcing him to miss four games. Swinson should be ready to return after the all-star break. ... With two assists Friday, Louis Dumont extended his point-scoring streak to eight games.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.