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Latvia Stands in Canada's Way of Berth in Semifinals

Tuesday, 02.18.2014 / 6:10 PM / News
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Latvia Stands in Canada\'s Way of Berth in Semifinals
What\'s at stake: In the grand scheme of things, it\'s the same: This game is for the right to compete for a medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.\r\n
By Brian Hunter | NHL.com

LATVIA vs. CANADA

When: Wednesday, Noon ET (MSNBC, CBC)

Where: Bolshoy Ice Dome

What's at stake: In the grand scheme of things, it's the same: This game is for the right to compete for a medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

In reality, it means something completely different to each of the two competing nations.

Canada was expected to be here and is expected to go on and defend the gold medal it won four years ago in Vancouver. Anything less will be seen as a huge disappointment.

Not much was expected from Latvia, which seemed on the way to fulfilling that prophecy by going 0-3 in group play. However, all three losses were tight games and Latvia finally broke through and stunned Switzerland 3-1 in a play-in game Tuesday. Another win 24 hours later as the heaviest of underdogs would be nothing short of this country's own Miracle on Ice.

Latvia: Edgars Masalskis stopped 38 of 39 shots against Switzerland in Latvia's Group C opener, but it wasn't enough because his teammates couldn't score a goal. Masalskis was just as good Tuesday, making 32 saves, and this time he got support in the first period from Oskars Bartulis and Lauris Darzins, whose goals built what turned out to be an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

This is the first time in five Olympic appearances Latvia has reached the quarterfinals. Anything more at this point is icing on the cake, which makes the Latvians dangerous, and while they'll be playing back-to-back while the Canadians come in rested, there should be plenty left in the tank for a game of this magnitude.

"One of the greatest hockey teams ever to play hockey," forward Kaspars Daugavins, who played in the NHL for the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins, told the IIHF website of the Canadians. "It's going to be really tough for us, but we're going to try to give them a hard time. You never know. Miracles have happened before."

Canada: Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, who started the first and last game for Canada in group play, was named the starter by coach Mike Babcock. Price hasn't been tested much to this point, needing to make just 33 saves combined in wins against Norway and Finland, but each game had its stressful moments, particularly the 2-1 overtime triumph Sunday against the Finns which allowed Canada to place first in Group B.

"I'm actually just trying to do the same thing I do in Montreal," Price said about his mentality in net. "You're not getting as many shots, but whenever they're in the zone you just try and find that zone that you're in regularly as when you're facing 30, 35 shots."

Babcock's lineup juggling has been one of the biggest storylines to this point, as he tries to find the right fits around Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby and decide on a 13th forward and seventh defenseman. Babcock, from the Detroit Red Wings, will match wits in this game with another great hockey mind in Latvia's Ted Nolan, interim coach of the Buffalo Sabres. While popular opinion will be that Canada dodged a major bullet not having to face Switzerland in the quarterfinals, Babcock won't let his players overlook Latvia for a second.

What's next: It's the end of the line for the losing team, while the winner advances to the semifinals Friday to play either the United States or Czech Republic.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 NSH 63 41 15 7 191 151 89
2 ANA 63 39 17 7 186 176 85
3 STL 61 39 18 4 190 152 82
4 CHI 63 37 21 5 183 150 79
5 WPG 63 31 20 12 174 170 74
6 VAN 61 35 23 3 174 162 73
7 MIN 61 32 22 7 173 160 71
8 LAK 61 29 20 12 164 157 70
9 CGY 62 33 25 4 175 160 70
10 SJS 62 30 24 8 173 177 68
11 COL 62 27 24 11 166 179 65
12 DAL 62 27 25 10 195 207 64
13 ARI 62 20 35 7 137 210 47
14 EDM 62 18 34 10 142 206 46

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
R. Getzlaf 60 19 40 10 59
C. Perry 48 26 17 13 43
R. Kesler 63 16 23 -2 39
S. Vatanen 57 12 22 6 34
M. Beleskey 56 21 9 13 30
P. Maroon 55 7 21 -4 28
H. Lindholm 60 6 22 17 28
J. Silfverberg 62 9 18 7 27
C. Fowler 62 5 21 -2 26
R. Rakell 52 5 19 4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
F. Andersen 29 8 5 .916 2.37
J. Gibson 7 5 0 .914 2.63

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