It wasn't his best performance, but the mere presence of Judd Lambert alone usually is enough to give the Augusta Lynx a chance to win.
The 26-year-old goalie did just that Friday, recording 36 saves in his Augusta return, as the Lynx held on to beat the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks 5-3 before a local TV audience and a crowd of 5,801 fans at the civic center.
For Lambert, it was his first start for the Lynx since a 9-4 victory over Charlotte on March 2. He had spent the past three weeks with Grand Rapids of the International League and Cincinnati of the American League before rejoining the club Thursday.
"It's good to be back in Augusta," said Lambert, who improved his record to 8-5-1 with the victory, his third in a row and seventh in his past eight starts.
"I felt all right and thought I made some good saves, but I wasn't happy with some of the rebounds I gave up. Luckily, the team played well and we held on for the win."
Likit Andersson, Scott Morrow, Sandy Lamarre, Paul Vincent and Dean Tiltgen scored one goal each, while Vincent added three assists and Tiltgen had an assist and finished plus-4 to lead the attack.
The Lynx staked Lambert to an early lead and led 4-1 after two periods before the Tiger Sharks rallied to make it a one-goal game in the third period.
But with 3:15 left in regulation, Tiltgen iced the win when he tapped home a loose puck in the crease with Tiger Sharks goalie Alex Fomitchev sprawled on his belly. It was Tiltgen's 28th marker of the season.
With five games remaining, the Lynx are clinging to the 10th and final playoff spot in the Southern Conference. Thursday's 4-1 win over Pee Dee moved them ahead of Baton Rouge (31-25-10, 72 points) into the 10th spot.
Entering tonight's road game against Greensboro, the Lynx still hold that one-point margin over the Kingfish - 6-2 winners over Birmingham on Friday.
"I thought we played good tonight, and it was great to see Judd back in there," said coach Jim Burton, whose Lynx (33-27-7, 73 points) have won 17 of its past 24 games. "Judd's a big part of the team. I'm certainly glad he's back, and he played really well tonight."
The Lynx opened the scoring at 4:03 of the first when Vincent dug the puck out behind the Tiger Sharks' net and fed it out front to Andersson, who pinched in from the blue line and fired a wrist shot from the high slot that beat Fomitchev on the high glove side.
It was 2-0 at 6:24 of the first on Morrow's 30th goal of the year, but after the Tiger Sharks were outplayed and outchanced in the first period, they came to life early in the second, cutting the Lynx's lead in half on a wraparound goal by J.F. Houle at 14:27. With the Tiger Sharks cycling the puck down low, Houle took a pass and walked out from behind the net and stuffed the puck between Lambert's skate and the post.
But Lamarre quickly got it back for the Lynx with his 19th goal of the year at 16:32. It was an acrobatic effort that was as much a tribute to hard work as it was to skill.
After he took a cross-ice feed from Vincent, Lamarre came streaking down the left wing and got off a shot despite the bothersome reach of a Tiger Sharks defender. Fomitchev made the initial save, but the rebound ended up in Lamarre's skates as he cut in front of the net. The crafty Lynx winger managed to get the puck on his backhand and throw in an off-balance shot that snuck through Fomitchev's pads for his 19th of the year to make it 3-1.
Vincent made it 4-1 at 18:34 when he batted out of mid-air a harmless dump-in by John Whitwell, redirecting the puck into the net for his 28th goal of the season.
But despite having the worst power play in the ECHL, the Tiger Sharks used it to get back into the contest in the third period, as David Thibeault and rookie Michael Henrich scoring goals with the man-advantage at 3:49 and 9:33 of the third, making it 4-3.
A first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Henrich was making his Tallahassee debut Friday after struggling with AHL Hamilton this season.
NOTES: Dayton Bombers center Jamie Ling was named the ECHL Sportsmanship Award winner for a record third time Friday. The former Notre Dame star leads the ECHL with 64 assists and is tied for fifth in scoring with 83 points, and is second in league with a plus-25 rating. The Sportsmanship Award is presented each year to the ECHL player who best combines sportsmanship, gentlemanly conduct, and overall playing ability.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org