It took them 355 games and nearly five years, but the Augusta Lynx are finally headed back to the playoffs. And they're feeling pretty good about their chances once they get there.
For the first time since the 2000-2001 season, the Lynx will compete in the ECHL postseason, the berth coming with a dominant 3-0 victory over Florida on Sunday at Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center.
"It's a coach's dream, his plan when he starts the season to make sure his team's playing its best hockey at the end of the season," said first-year Lynx coach Bob Ferguson, who now has taken his teams to the postseason 24 straight seasons.
"But we're not done yet."
Ferguson appears to have his team peaking at the right time, providing "probably the best performance of the season" in a rout of his former team.
Thanks to rookie Mike Wall's outstanding performance in net, Ryan Lang's pair of scores and defenseman Will Bodine's first goal as a professional, Augusta (29-32-6) pulled within one point of fifth-place Charlotte in the South Division with five games left in the regular season.
"I think we're a team that is going to be tough to beat," said Wall, who made 32 saves in his first shutout of the year.
The Lynx have shown all season they have the offensive potential to beat anyone, but their up-and-down defense and inconsistent goaltending have been issues.
All three phases have improved of late, and they each were stout Sunday against the Everblades (43-20-3).
Lang crashed the goal to punch in a Sam Ftorek shot 6:40 into the game, and Bodine - in his fifth pro game out of college - netted a surprising goal early in the third period.
Simply trying to dump the puck into Florida's zone, his wrister somehow beat Kevin Nastiuk from beyond the blue line.
With Wall denying all Florida efforts, Lang added the final goal from behind the Everblades' net, banking a shot off the back of Nastiuk's right pad.
Ftorek, a member of the 1999-2000 Lynx playoff team, picked up his second assist of the day on the play.
"We've developed a sense of urgency and decided that every game's important," Ftorek said. "It's a big relief (to clinch a spot), but our job's not done - not even close."
Reach Steve Sanders at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.