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They're ba-a-a-ck.

The Greensboro Monarchs, once the scourges of the East Coast Hockey League, stunned first-place Winston-Salem Sunday night 5-4 in an overtime shootout win that pushed the Monarchs' winning streak to four games. Nick Vitucci, playing against his old teammates, stopped four straight shootout opportunities by the Thunderbirds and preserved Greensboro's biggest win of the season.The win cut the Thunderbirds' advantage over the Monarchs, who have struggled for two months, to 10 points in the tightening ECHL standings.

``This was absolutely the biggest win of the year,' Jeff Brubaker, Greensboro's coach said. ``Coming here against the first-place team, and the way we won it, it was a big one.'

The Monarchs won it with shoot-out goals by Boyd Sutton and Chris Laganas, but it was a goal by defenseman Stephane Carrier with 55 seconds to play that forced an overtime period. It was the second goal in two nights for Carrier, and both would have to be considered the biggest shots of the season for Greensboro.

Carrier tied the game after the Monarchs had blown a 3-1 lead and fallen behind 4-3 in the third period. With a minute to go, Doug Lawrence hit Phil Berger with a pass on the wing, and Berger hit a streaking Carrier in the crease for the tying goal.

``That's two straight,' said Brubaker. ``I guess Carrier figures now that when we need the big goal, he'll have to do it himself.'

Even after Carrier's goal, it took some heroics from Vitucci. Winston-Salem's top line of Len Soccio, Trent Kaese and Joey Ferras, three of the top four scorers in the league, had a three-on-one break in the five-minute overtime, and Vitucci's only defense was to lunge at a blistered shot to his left. In the process, he lost his stick, which gave the Thunderbirds a penalty shot for the win late in the extra period.

Kaese went one-on-one with his old teammate, and Vitucci made a miraculous glove save to send the game into overtime.

In the shootout, Vitucci stopped Kaese again, then rejected shots from John Torchetti, Ferras and Bob Bennett. Sutton, the third of five shootout players for the Monarchs, beat Winston-Salem goalie Paul Cohen, and Laganas added another to give the Monarchs a 2-0 advantage and clinch the win.

In a shootout, each team chooses five players to go one-on-one against the opposing goalie. The first team to get an unbeatable advantage wins the game.

The shootout capped one of the most exciting ECHL games of the year. Greensboro won a battle of attrition in the first period, scoring three times on only 10 shots, twice in power-play situations. In the first period, there were 32 minutes in penalties. The teams were in power-play situations for all but two minutes of the opening period. GREENSBORO30101-5Winston-Salem11200-4

First period - 1, Winston-Salem, Kaese (Torchetti, Devereaux) pp 3:43; 2, Greensboro, McCormick (Bock, Thompson) pp 7:38; 3, Greensboro, Berger (Bock) 14:57; 4, Greensboro, Berger (Sullivan, Bock) pp 19:17.

Second period - 5, Winston-Salem, Soccio (Russell, Kaese) pp, 4:38.

Third period - 6, Winston-Salem, Jacob (Russell, Greene) 13:17; 7, Winston-Salem, Torchetti (Ferras, Irving) pp, 15:30; 8, Greensboro, Carrier (Lawrence, Berger) 19:05.

Shots - Greensboro 10-8-13-6-37; Winston-Salem 13-17-14-5-46.

Goalies - Vitucci (GB) 65:00, 46 shots, 42 saves; Cohen (WS) 65:00, 37 shots, 33 saves.

Penalty minutes - Greensboro 31; Winston-Salem 39.


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