COLUMBIA - This could have been another huge step forward in the reclamation project that is the Augusta Lynx.
They arrived Saturday for their first regular-season contest at Carolina Coliseum against the Columbia Inferno riding the wave of two straight wins. They were fresh off their most complete performance in more than a month Friday in a 4-1 win at Columbus.
But they arrived for the opening period in body only. Apparently, they checked their minds and spirits at the door.
The Inferno unloaded with four first-period goals and cruised to a 5-2 victory before a bipartisan crowd that included a sizable contingent of fans clad in Lynx jerseys.
"That team (Columbia) outplayed us in the first period, and by the time we got it together it was too late," Lynx coach Jim Burton said. "We only played for 40 minutes tonight, and that's not enough against that team in this building."
With the victory, Columbia (17-13-5) remained two points behind first-place Pee Dee in the Southeast Division, while the Lynx (13-12-6) saw their modest winning streak snapped at two.
A pair of goals by Kevin Mackie and single tallies by Barrie Moore and Didier Tremblay in the opening 14:15 left the Lynx reeling and prompted Burton to yank one of his NHL-contracted goalies - this time, Gregg Naumenko - for the second time in eight days.
On the first two Columbia goals, the Lynx hung Naumenko out to dry. Moore opened the scoring at 2:51 when he finished a 2-on-0 rush, and the first of Mackie's two goals came when he corralled his own rebound in the slot and flipped it over the defenseless Augusta goaltender.
But Burton clearly was displeased with Naumenko on the next two goals, and replaced him with Cris Classen after Mackie made it 4-0.
"Maybe he quit at that point, I don't know," Burton said of Naumenko, who surrendered four goals on 10 shots. "But I do know our goaltending situation is going to be resolved after (today's) game. That's a definite."
Burton was alluding to his plans to have one of the former NHL goalies jettisoned to another team. All signs indicate that Naumenko will be moved, leaving Burton with a tandem of Classen and Zac Bierk, who is on injured reserve and did not make the trip to Columbia.
If there was any consolation, it was that the Lynx didn't quit. After falling behind 5-0 on Shawn Wansborough's goal with 6:20 left in the game, Augusta finished strong on goals by Patrick Yetman and Guy Larose.
NOTES: Nothing materialized as a result of the simmering feud between Augusta's David Wilkie and Columbia's Dennis Vial, save for one big hit administered by Vial in the corner and a few jabs of the stick after Wilkie fell to the ice. In the last meeting between the teams in mid-November, Vial checked Wilkie from behind late in the game, and Wilkie ripped the former NHL enforcer for the hit.
Augusta Lynx 0 0 2-2
Columbia Inferno 4 0 1-5
First period:1-Columbia, Moore 6 (Stringer, Campbell), 2:51. 2-Columbia, Mackie 3 (Wansborough, Legg), 6:56. 3-Columbia, Tremblay (Mackie, Stringer), 13:42 (pp). 4-Columbia, Mackie 4 (Stringer, Moore), 14:15 (pp). Penalties-Galbraith, Aug, major (fighting), 9:45; Ulwelling, Col, major (fighting), 9:45; Ulwelling, Col (goaltender interference), 9:45; Mason, Aug (slashing), 13:20.
Second period: No scoring. Petz, Col (holding), 2:05; Campbell, Col (slashing), 5:24; Bes, Aug (holding the stick), 5:28; Legg, Col (hooking), 6:51; Galbraith, Col (tripping), 9:23.
Third period: 5-Columbia, Wansborough 12 (Trottier, Tremblay), 13:40 (pp). 6-Augusta, Yetman 14 (Morrow, Lapointe), 15:07. 7-Augusta, Larose 7 (Willis), 17:13. Penalties-Mackie, Col (hooking), 4:35; Willis, Aug (cross-checking), 5:34; Ulwelling, Col (high sticking), 6:15; Whitwell, Aug (tripping), 8:58; Gillies, Aug (cross-checking), 9:25; Gillies, Aug, served by St. Louis, major (slashing), 9:25; Gillies, Aug, (game misconduct), 9:25.
Shots on goal: Augusta 9-9-6-24, Columbia 15-4-17-36. Power-play opportunities: Augusta 0 of 8, Columbia 3 of 7. Goalies: Augusta-Naumenko (14 shots-10 saves; L, 3-4-2), Classen, 14:15 of first period (22-21); Columbia-Villeneuve (24-22; W, 12-8-1). Referee: Terry Koharski. Linesmen: John O'Brien, Terry Wicklum. A: 3,869.