Photo credit: The Canadian Press
When Canadian fans saw the schedule, they wouldn’t have batten an eyelash. With all due respect to their opponents on Wednesday, Latvia has never beaten Canada in any international competition. But being coached by Ted Nolan in addition to the team playing together for a while, the Latvians certainly were not content to be treated like doormats. In Wednesday’s quarter-final, Canada found out why.
While they did go winless in the preliminary round, Latvia lost all three of their games by a grand total of four goals. Then on Tuesday, they did one better, eliminating a resurgent Swiss squad 3-1. Then, on Wednesday, while they were up against enormous odds against Canada, the former Soviet colony felt comfortable knowing they were, for all intents and purposes, playing with house money.
Slovenia’s Robert Kristan wasn’t the only unsung netminder making noise in Sochi. Latvia’s Kristers Gudlevskis did the same for his country. He needed to bring his A-game against Canada – and that is just what he did.
In the first period, Chicago’s Patrick Sharp scored his first of the tournament to put the Canadians up. But Latvia answered back with Lauris Darzins tying the game before the period was through.
Throughout the second and much of the third, the game was scoreless. In fact, Gudlevskis stole the show stopping a whopping total of 55 shots leaving a determined Team Canada frustrated beyond belief.
Canada did eventually solve the Latvian netminder as defenseman Shea Weber blasted a point shot (set up by Los Angeles’s Drew Doughty) that found its way past Gudlevskis to give the Canadians a lead and, in the process, let his entire country finally exhale.
Carey Price wasn’t quite as busy in the Canadian net but was good enough, making 15 saves to preserve the very hard-earned victory.
Despite the win, Team Canada had to deal with some bad news on the injury front as John Tavares left the game. The Islanders star was checked hard into the boards by Arturs Kulda and while he was able to skate off the ice under his power, did not return to the game once he left. It is also unclear what the injury is at this point.
A win may be a win but Team Canada narrowly escaped a game against a team they should’ve beaten a bit more convingly, again with all due respect to Latvia.
Patrick Sharp finally got on the board and Rick Nash recorded a point (assisting on Sharp’s tally) but Team Canada will need a much better effort on Friday when they play their semi-final matchup against a Team USA squad who have, thus far, scored 20 goals in this tournament.