BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – A late regulation time goal on power play has saved some red faces in the Finnish camp on Monday as they held on to beat Latvia 3-2 in pool play at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships.
After pushing world champions, the Czech Republic on Saturday, Latvia came into their second pool play game against the world’s no.4 team, Finland full of confidence.
Having beaten Latvia convincingly in two friendlies (5-0 and 5-2) last month, Finland could be mistaken for going into the game with a little complacency, something that looked further justified when they went ahead 1-0 on a power play in the 14th minute with Latvian Captain Herberts Vasiljevs watching helplessly from the penalty box.
Latviareversed the fortunes in the second period, dominating all facets of play, producing more shots on goal than their opponents (12-10) for only the second time in this tournament to date. The sustained pressure on the Finnish goal paid off in the 34th minute when Latvia got their own back on power play. Andis Dzerins won a faceoff with Mikelis Redlihs picking up the loose puck and offloading it to brother Krisjanis whose slap shot from the blue line at scores tied at one.
Having failed to score in the final period on Saturday, Latvia was not about to make the same mistake twice. Having watched from the penalty box when Finland scored their opening goal, Vasiljevs was able to get his own back in the 43rd minute by putting his side ahead with the goal coming from another powerplay. The play began when Georgijs Pujacs sent a slap shot wide before the puck deflected of Martins Cipulis into the path of the Vasiljevs who displayed lightening reflexes to put Latvia in the lead.
As time began to run down the confidence of Latvia continued to grow as they looked to put the game out of Finland’s reach. But a questionable interference call against Jekabs Redlihs in the 52nd minute would prove costly as Finland took advantage of the extra man on the ice to tie scores up.
With no more goals forthcoming in regular time the game was forced into an extra period. Finland dominated play in the extra period, thanks to another power play going in their favor. But Edgars Masalskis in goal was up to the task, saving five more shots, forcing the game into a shootout.
Shooting first, Finland quickly went one up, putting the pressure on Aleksandrs Nizivijs. Niziviijs failed to convert and when Finland again struck on their second shot, Lauris Darzins needed to make his shot to keep the shoot out alive. He suffered a similar fate to Nizivijs however, signaling an end to the match.
Latvianow need to win their final pool match against Denmark on Wednesday to have any realistic hope of moving through to the next round. Talking to iihf.com ahead of the Denmark matchup, Darzins acknowledged that, “it’s going to be a tough game. The loser goes to Kosice (to play in the relegation round) and you don’t want to be in that spot. Probably the first couple of shifts are going to be a little nerve-wracking. But we’ve been in this position. I think we can handle the pressure and win the game.”