Augusta Lynx coach Stan Drulia sat in his office Wednesday watching the Columbus Cottonmouths on video, and declared this one a big game, maybe the biggest of the season to date.
Thursday's showdown with Central Division rival Columbus was a chance for the Lynx to continue scrambling closer to playoff contention against one of the teams they're chasing.
The Lynx seemed to get the message for one period. But somewhere along the way, the surging Cottonmouths delivered a statement of their own.
And after Augusta squandered a two-goal lead and fell 4-3 to the Cottonmouths, Drulia had a different kind of message for his players during a 15-minute closed-door meeting.
"We had no effort; for 20 minutes, we have a 2-0 lead, and we think we're an all-star team out there and stop doing the little things that made us successful," Drulia said. "Our work ethic has been disgusting the last two (games). We had a little heart-to-heart with a lot of the guys tonight after this one. We'll see how they respond."
After an inspired opening period, the Lynx went in the tank, as J-F Plourde scored a pair of goals to give the Cottonmouths their 10th win in their past 12 games.
Augusta began the night with a chance to pull within one point of Columbus for fifth place in the Central Division, and to within five points of Pensacola for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division.
The loss resulted in a four-point swing, as the Lynx (16-17-4) enter tonight's home game against Greenville trailing Columbus (19-18-3) by five points with two games left before the ECHL All-Star break.
"Guys are not on the same page - everybody's working but we're not working together," Lynx defenseman Wes Swinson said. "We've got to win every game. Everybody has to be accountable and play hard and give it everything we got right now to make the playoffs."
Goals by Todd Bennett and Brandon Doria - his first as a professional - made it 2-0 lead at 4:32 of the second period.
But Plourde scored at 10:07 of the second period, and Carlyle Lewis tied the game one minute later.
Then, a costly breakdown at their own blue line led to a highlight reel goal by Plourde. The Cottonmouths forward picked up the puck along the boards, wheeled around Swinson and Shawn Weiman, and made a nifty toe-drag move to beat goalie Gregg Naumenko, giving them a 3-2 lead at 1:52 of the third.
John Morlang scored his 13th goal to make it 4-2 with 6:59 left. With Naumenko pulled for an extra skater, Louis Goulet scored his team-leading 15th goal for the Lynx with 23 seconds remaining, but it was too little, too late.
Columbus coach Bryan Curran yanked ECHL Goalie of the Week, former Lynx Jason Tapp, after Augusta's second goal, and the move paid off. Matus Kostur took over in net and was strong the rest of the way, recording 19 saves.
"I think we got up 2-0 and got a little too confident," Doria said. "We were sitting back and didn't do the little things to win."
NOTES: The Lynx acquired defenseman Peter Reynolds from Florida on Thursday to complete Wednesday's trade that sent the rights to forward Chris Thompson to the Everblades. Reynolds, who is under contract with Carolina of the NHL, was reassigned to the Lynx and made his debut against Columbus. Thompson played for the Lynx last season and was with Columbus (Ohio) of the UHL this year before the team folded earlier this month. ... Rookie Jonathan Gagnon, who broke a finger in Tuesday's overtime loss at South Carolina, was placed on 7-day injured reserve. ... Forward Josh Bennett (pinched nerve) and Jarrett Thompson (concussion) were the scratches for Augusta.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.