Home > Uncategorized > Canada “survives” Latvia scare, advances to semis with 2-1 win

Canada “survives” Latvia scare, advances to semis with 2-1 win

Al Charest/Calgary Sun Not even this snow shower by Team Canada forward Corey Perry could rattle Latvia goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis during their quarter-final game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday. Gudlevskis smothered this scoring chance before Perry could poke the puck past him and stopped 55 shots in total, but it wasn't enough for Latvia as Canada prevailed 2-1 on Shea Weber's go-ahead goal in the third period. With the win, defending Olympic champion Canada advanced to the semifinals — as expected — and will next face the archival United States on Friday in a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, which Canada won 3-2 in overtime.

Al Charest/Calgary Sun
Not even this snow shower by Team Canada forward Corey Perry could rattle Latvia goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis during their quarter-final game at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday. Gudlevskis smothered this scoring chance before Perry could poke the puck past him and stopped 55 shots in total, but it wasn’t enough for Latvia as Canada prevailed 2-1 on Shea Weber’s go-ahead goal in the third period. With the win, defending Olympic champion Canada advanced to the semifinals — as expected — and will next face the archrival United States on Friday in a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver, which Canada won 3-2 in overtime on a (golden) goal by Sidney Crosby.

“A win is a win.” — How many times will we hear that classic cliché over the next 48 hours?

My guess: Countless times.

It’s true, though. As much as Canada ‘struggled’ to solve Latvia goaltender Kristers Gudļevskis — he made 55 saves in an (obvious) first-star performance — it did just enough to advance with a 2-1 quarter-final win on Wednesday morning. That sets the stage for a semifinal showdown on Friday against the United States, a rematch of the 2010 gold-medal game in Vancouver.

Larry Fisher
Larry Fisher

This matchup comes as no surprise, but that Canada nearly went to overtime with Latvia is shocking to say the least. That was mostly due to Gudļevskis — a 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect who had the game of his life — but Canada, for whatever reasons, is having a hard time scoring in these Olympics.

Now through four games, Sidney Crosby — the world’s best player, almost unanimously — has two measly points. Two assists, that is. And not even highlight-reel helpers.

I’ll give him the benefit of doubt that he was just “warming up” against Norway and Austria. Against Finland, maybe they had somebody shadowing Crosby’s every move. But against Latvia, there is no excuse for being kept off the scoresheet — not even Gudlevskis’ heroics can be blamed for Crosby’s ineffectiveness offensively.

Needless to say, Crosby needs to be the best player on the ice against the Americans in order for Canada to have another chance at gold — an opportunity to repeat as Olympic champions. Friday’s other semifinal will feature an all-Scandinavian clash between Sweden and Finland, who ousted the host Russians 3-1 in their quarter-final earlier Wednesday.

Tuukka Rask was a difference-maker for Finland in that contest — shutting down Ovechkin, Malkin, etc — but nobody has had near the impact of Gudlevskis to this point in the tournament. Despite not even being Latvia’s starter — that title belongs to Edgars Masalskis, who was suffering from exhaustion after upsetting Switzerland in the qualification round — Gudlevskis gave his country every chance in the world to win, which is all any team can ask of its netminder.

So hats off to him, but it’s onward and (hopefully) upward from here for the Canadians.

Two things are of particular concern to me heading into the semifinals: the health of John Tavares, a key (if under-utilized) player for Canada who left the Latvia game with an apparent knee injury; and the play of Carey Price. The latter hasn’t been playing bad — he’s only allowed three goals through three games, all wins — but Price simply hasn’t been tested enough to be truly counted on, or to be fully confident in.

That test will come against the Americans, likely in the first period, and here’s hoping Price is up to the challenge — as I expect he will be.

Time will tell on that front, but for those interested, here’s my latest mash-up of thoughts from the quarter-final round courtesy my Twitter feed (LarryFisher_KDC):

8:54 a.m. = Just woke up to see Russia lost in the quarters to Finland. My first thought: Putin must be pissed! #Sochi2014

8:57 a.m. = In all seriousness though, not finishing top 4 (let alone not medalling) is an epic failure for host Russia and won’t sit well.

8:58 a.m. = I would say it’s also a blow to the ego and legitimacy of the KHL, but in all honesty Russia’s NHLers were nothing special in Sochi either.

8:59 a.m. = And with all that said, Russia badly outshot Finland, but Tuukka Rask was the difference by the looks of things.

9:00 a.m. = That sets the stage for all-Scandinavian semifinal between Finland and Sweden, who ousted surprising Slovenia 5-0 in earlier quarter-final.

9:02 a.m. = Switching gears to Canada-Latvia, Glenn Healy has pointed out that Canada’s combined salary is $149+ million. Latvia’s? $6 million.

9:03 a.m. = That about sums up this David vs. Goliath matchup. Winner of Canada-Latvia plays winner of USA-Czechs, who also start momentarily in Sochi.

9:05 a.m. = Other big storylines for this Canada-Latvia quarter: Latvia will be starting their other/backup goalie, Kristers Gudlevskis.

9:07 a.m. = Gudlevskis is a 21-year-old Tampa Bay prospect who has split this season between AHL and ECHL. He starts opposite Carey Price for Canada.

9:09 a.m. = Latvia is coached by Ted Nolan — yes, that Ted Nolan (of the Buffalo Sabres) — and captained by 41-year-old Sandis Ozolins.

9:11 a.m. = Yes, that’s a blast from the past (former SJ Shark) and no that’s not a spelling mistake. Ozolins has inexplicably lost “h” from last name.

9:12 a.m. = Good pace to start here with chances at both ends. Kunitz, reunited with Crosby on Canada’s top line, hit the crossbar in early stages.

9:13 a.m. = Canada’s forward lines: Kunitz-Crosby-Bergeron, Perry-Getzlaf-Benn, Marleau-Toews-Carter, Nash-Tavares-Sharp with St. Louis as extra.

9:15 a.m. = Gudlevskis, who replaced yesterday’s qualification round hero Edgars Masalskis, is looking a little unorthodox in net but keeping puck out.

9:16 a.m. = Pretty sure Nolan’s pre-game message to Latvians went something like this: “Shoot the puck…from anywhere and everywhere.”

9:17 a.m. = Latvia trying to test Price early, getting pucks towards the net whenever possible, including off the rush on power play from high slot.

9:18 a.m. = Price looking pretty calm, cool and collected — more controlled than Gudlevskis anyway — as Canada kills off Latvian power play.

9:19 a.m. = Scoreless through 9 minutes and Latvia might actually be leading on shot clock (quantity not quality), so underdogs have to like this start.

9:20 a.m. = Canada is getting some Grade-A chances though, and you have to think it’s only a matter of time ’til they put one in (or a half-dozen in)!

9:21 a.m. = Think I just heard the shot count is 13-3 (presumably in favour of Canada), so I guess Latvia must be missing the net a fair bit as well.

9:22 a.m. = Zone time has been relatively close, pretty back and forth through 12 minutes, but Canada certainly getting the better chances.

9:25 a.m. = 1-0 Canada, Patrick Sharp fires into open net on Rick Nash’s feed from behind the net after first real sustained pressure/cycle for Canada.

9:26 a.m. = I honestly get the sense Canada could hit double-digits in this quarter-final if they really bore down but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

9:27 a.m. = Commercial break offers time for fun random fact: All but one player on Latvia’s roster has a first name ending in the letter “s”.

9:28 a.m. = The exception: Koba Jass, a 23-year-old forward who plays for HC Kladno in Czech Extraliga. Makes me wonder if his nickname is “Kobas”? #lol

9:30 a.m. = 1-1 Latvia…holy lightning Lauris Darzins just tied this up on a breakaway backhand deke that went shelf and stayed shelf (puck lodged under bar)!

9:31 a.m. = Not sure how Darzins snuck behind Canadian defence or how the puck got through to him but Price looked as surprised as anybody.

9:34 a.m. = Latvia on 2nd power play of game as Canada’s Duncan Keith sent off for playing with broken stick. Irony in that Latvian twig just exploded.

9:36 a.m. = Darzins, for those who don’t know, is a former @Kelowna_Rockets who had two 30+ point WHL seasons and won a league championship in 2004-05.

9:37 a.m. = 1-1 after the 1st. Sharp for Canada, Darzins for Latvia. Canada gradually took over and got the bulk of good scoring chances.

9:38 a.m. = But one little breakdown and the Latvians — a very opportunistic bunch — made Canada pay. That said, just can’t see Canada losing this one!

9:39 a.m. = Now the part we’ve all been waiting for…Don Cherry’s evaluation after 20 minutes and his potential attempt at pronouncing Latvian names!

9:42 a.m. = Grapes ran out of Halloween costumes it appears, or he forgot to wear stuffy on his head for this episode of Coach’s Corner.

9:43 a.m. = Anybody even thinking of bringing up Loungo’s name after that period or goal against is grasping for straws. Price was fine, looks in zone.

9:44 a.m. = Price just simply got beat on a good play by a good player — yes, Darzins is good and you could be seeing him in an NHL arena near you soon.

9:52 a.m. = Ah-ha, Latvians are sneaky little buggers! Commentators show us just how Darzins got behind Canadian D, quick change off rare face-off win!

9:54 a.m. = That’s genius (or ingenius)! Drawing up set plays like that, some NHL team should take a look at this Latvian coach…oh wait #TedNolan

10:02 a.m. = For as much grief as I’ve given Marc-Edouard Vlasic (mostly pre-Olympics), I must admit he’s a solid D-man and I’d take him on my NHL team.

10:03 a.m. = Canada might have just lost John Tavares to a knee injury on hit along boards. Poor Tavares, he’s been under-utilized in Sochi in my opinion

10:04 a.m. = Martin St. Louis getting some power-play time here after barely playing at even strength. That’s gotta be hard to get into rhythm now.

10:07 a.m. = Shots are now 30-8 but score remains 1-1 midway through the 2nd. Canada really needs to net one here soon, enough toying around (if toying)!

10:11 a.m. = Jim Hughson still pretty dismissive of Latvia’s chances, now heading to power play he says: Latvia might have chance to get out of own end.

10:14 a.m. = Then, with 30 seconds left on Latvia’s power play, Hughson comments: These shifts after penalty kill are important. #prettypresumptuous

10:17 a.m. = “The Latvians continue to survive” – Hughson. Yes, yes they do. But for how much longer? Canada’s bound to break through sooner than later.

10:19 a.m. = Good point there from Healy, criticizing Canada’s shot selection (or lack thereof). They are being too pretty and too picky. GET DIRTY! #garbagetime #anythingisbetterthannothing

10:21 a.m. = I know it’s early in the morning still (before noon in B.C.), but potential new drinking game: Do shot every time Hughson says “survive”.

10:24 a.m. = My other Canadian whipping boy — Chris Kunitz — has also been much better (or more involved) today. But still not convinced he belongs here.

10:28 a.m. = Still 1-1 after 2 periods, Canada will start the 3rd on a lengthy power play (1:30ish) and will need to score then or Latvia will get boost!

10:32 a.m. = That Canada and Latvia are tied after 40 minutes is a credit to Latvia or a discredit to Canada? You tell me! #leaningtowardslatter

10:34 a.m. = In reply to: @BuddsyBudd “I am getting a little nervous here!” — “it’s one of those things, Price is cold as a cucumber back there by now and I’m starting to see shades of Tommy Salo vs Belarus!”

10:35 a.m. = In reply to: @donniedodger25 “sadly if you agree with Healy on anything I immediately discredit anything you say.” — “My apologies…Twitter and its limited character count didn’t allow room for me to add “RARE good point from Healy”!”

10:37 a.m. = In reply to: @JoshAldrich03 “just run the goalie, take him out, “accidentally” fall on him.” — “this is Latvia’s backup! Their starter Edgars Masaļskis was too exhausted from beating Switzerland! #becarefulwhatyouwishfor”

10:40 a.m. = In reply to: @JoshAldrich03 “considering your team is the Oilers, of course you would (take Vlasic). It’s like a starving man saying, yeah I’d eat Vegemite.” — “touché! Truer words have never been spoken! I’d even be willing to package Corey Potter+Ryan Jones+4th rounder for Vlasic!”

10:41 a.m. = @JoshAldrich03 that’s sarcasm, also known as a joke for all non-Oilers fans…so save your silly #homer tweets for a better time and place!

10:43 a.m. = In reply to: @donniedodger25 “absolutely a no-win situation for Canada, the only outcome we would accept is a massacre. All the media looked past Latvia” — “and rightfully so…Latvia really posed ZERO threat to Canada…until now, that is #yikes”

10:44 a.m. = Come on Sid! That’s a tap-in…no excuses, play like a champ!

10:46 a.m. = Are the local Latvians currently building/resurrecting statues of Kristers Gudļevskis and/or Ted Nolan? Mount Rushmore replica with Darzins?

10:50 a.m. = Also, apologies to all those who I assured would cash in by betting the OVER today! #notover #notevenclose

10:53 a.m. = The Latvians got a shot…and Price stopped it #thankChrist #heavenhelpus #somebodyinwhitescorealready

10:56 a.m. = Kristaps Sotnieks = CHEATER! Seriously, is this just not meant to be? I thought Russia losing was bad, but this would be an epic failure!

10:57 a.m. = If there is a God (or a KARMA), Canada is going to score on this ensuing shift! #makeithappen #please #prettyplease #beggingyouplease

11:01 a.m. = 10 minutes left in regulation of Olympic quarter-final. Canada and Latvia still tied 1-1. #notkidding #believeitfolks

11:04 a.m. = Canada getting another power play…safe to say this is a MUST SCORE?

11:05 a.m. = Paging Sidney Crosby: You are the best player in the world, please play accordingly ASAP!

11:06 a.m. = Every Canadian player now has at least 1 shot (52 total) so this has been a “total team effort” … or a “total team failure”!

11:09 a.m. = 2-1 Canada, Shea Weber with another bomb from the blue-line for his 3rd goal of tournament… “Finally, the dam has burst!” – Hughson

11:10 a.m. = Latvia can’t possibly come back from this…or can they? Hughson saying “Canada can breath a little easier” #speakforyourself

11:12 a.m. = Large part of the crowd (the Russians?) clearly cheering for Latvia. Gets a little louder every time they touch the puck, which isn’t often!

11:14 a.m. = 3 minutes left, Canada up 2-1..with all their NHL experience and with role players like Vlasic on roster, have to think they lock this down!

11:16 a.m. = Why am I biting my fingernails with less than 2 minutes left in game between Canada and Latvia? #notsupposedtobeanailbiter #toomuchsuspense

11:18 a.m. = Latvian net is empty now…all or nothing for them with 1:30 left trailing 2-1!

11:18 a.m. = Last minute… #poorfingernails

11:21 a.m. = Toews come close to letting us actually “breath easier” but unable to finish empty-netter. Latvia off-side going other way. 25 secs left.

11:22 a.m. = Latvia goalie back in for neutral-zone faceoff? Umm, why? Hasn’t Kristers Gudļevskis worked hard enough today?

11:23 a.m. = 2-1 final for Canada, who will now play USA in semifinal on Friday. Americans beat the Czechs 5-2 in their quarter-final.

11:23 a.m. = Close but not close enough for Latvia as Shea Weber scores the deciding goal for Canada…another @Kelowna_Rockets coming up big/HUGE!

11:25 a.m. = Canada wasn’t great today, but really can’t say enough about effort of Kristers Gudļevskis. He was great in making 55 saves! #1ststar

Larry Fisher is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, B.C. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.

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