Canada survives Latvian scare, advances to men's hockey semifinals
Shea Weber scores winner in 3rd period
If Team Canada thought Wednesday’s quarter-final game against Latvia was going to be a walk in the park, it was wrong. Dead wrong
Canada needed a third-period goal from Shea Weber to earn a tight victory 2-1 over Latvia, advancing to the semifinals.
Latvia gave Team Canada everything it had and more in a game that was astonishingly close despite the massive discrepancy in talent between the two teams.
Once again Canada’s defence came to the rescue. Weber drilled home his third goal of the Olympics with just under seven minutes remaining in the third period. It was a slap shot from the left point, with Latvia shorthanded.
"It was a close game but at the same time I think we controlled a lot of the play," said defenceman Duncan Keith.
"We had good chances out there, a couple of posts and goals called back, plays that maybe would have gone in. At the end of the day, we are moving on and trying to learn from this game."
Canada will need to play better in its semifinal against the United States (Friday 12 p.m. ET, cbc.ca/olympics) if it hopes to repeat as the Olympic gold medal winners.
While Latvia didn’t win, the Ted Nolan-coached team threw a gigantic scare into Team Canada — not to mention Canadian hockey fans.
Nolan was hired by the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 13 to replace Ron Rolston with the understanding that he would honour his commitment to coach Latvia at the Olympics.
Ted Nolan's influence
He somehow managed to get a team with hardly any NHL experience to believe in itself and after knocking off Switzerland in the qualifying round Tuesday and followed it up with a heroic effort against Canada.
Nolan was the NHL’s coach of the year with the Sabres in 1997, but has drifted around hockey for years before returning to Buffalo when the organization decided to shake things up.
Canada owned the ice, severely out-shooting Latvia, but the never-say-die Latvians bent, but would not break.
Canada’s Jonathan Toews nearly gave his team the lead at 8:27 of the third period when he tipped a shot that was halfway across the goal line when Latvia’s Kristaps Sotnieks grabbed it with his glove and tucked it under the goalie.
Referee Jyri Ronn was on top of the net and failed to see the flagrant foul which should have resulted in a penalty shot.
Curve ball: One might have expected the Latvians to go with Edgars Masalskis in goal after he defeated Switzerland 3-1 Tuesday, but instead 21-year-old Kristers Gudlevskis was between the pipes. Hockey Night in Canada analyst Glenn Healy said Masalskis didn’t play because, “He is worn out.”
During the third period when Gudlevskis made saves and there was a stoppage in play, he would lie exhausted on the ice. Late in the game the training staff had to attend to him he was so spent.
Gudlevskis made 55 saves in the losing effort, earning praise from his teammates and opponents.
Awesome. Unbelievable. He's a young kid and, to throw him in that game and play like this with all the stars, was great," said Latvia defenceman Oskars Bartulis.
Canada's Carey Price called the opposing goalie's performance, "the best he'd ever seen."
Gudlevskis, who plays for Syracuse in the AHL, made an immediate impact stopping Jamie Benn in tight early and then stumping Sidney Crosby on a breakaway at 3:28. He was drafted 124th overall in 2013 by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It's amazing," Gudlevskis said. "This is the highest level we are going to play. This is even a higher level than NHL and, if you can play here, you can play everywhere. It really means a lot for me."
The game plan: Latvia knew it was a huge underdog so in an attempt to throw Canada off its game the Latvians came out hitting everything in sight.
Fourth line production: Canada’s fourth line of John Tavares between Rick Nash and Patrick Sharp shot Canada into a 1-0 lead midway through the first period. Nash set up Sharp and the side of the net and the Chicago Blackhawks winger drilled home his first goal of the Olympics.
Latvia bounces back: If Canadians thought the rout was on after Canada went up 1-0, Latvia had other ideas. Lauris Darvins tied the score at 15:41 when he broke in alone and roofed a backhander past a lunging Carey Price.
What made the goal so amazing is the fact it was scored off a set play. Latvia won a draw in its own zone and immediately a defenceman went off. Darvins came off the bench at the other end, took a long pass and then took off on a breakaway.
Healy, who worked the game from ice level, said he heard Latvian players rejoicing, “It worked! It worked!” after the goal.
Tavares out: Tavares was nailed by a hit against the boards by former Peterborough Petes defenceman Arturs Kulda and was shaken up. He appeared to hurt his knee and left for the dressing to be attended to. Coach Mike Babcock confirmed after the game that Tavares is out for the Olympics.
Kulda played 15 games in the NHL with Atlanta and Winnipeg.
Marleau misses: Patrick Marleau had a good chance to restore Canada’s lead midway through the game, but his attempt to stuff the puck in at the side of the net failed. The play was reviewed, but there was no goal.
Nash knows nervous: Team Canada winger Rick Nash said after 40 minutes, with the game tied 1-1: “You are always nervous in an elimination game, but we have been dominating.”
Sid’s woes: With Canada on the power play to start the first period, Sidney Crosby was set up at the side of the net and had an open net, but couldn’t handle the puck.