It took an incredible barrage of shots, but Team Canada was finally able to get a Shea Weber goal late in the third period as they narrowly defeated Latvia by a score of 2-1 on Wednesday afternoon in Sochi.
Patrick Sharp also scored his first goal of the tournament for the Canadians, but it was Kristers Gudlevskis who was the big star, stopping 52 Canadian shots in the game in what was ultimately a heroic but ill-fated effort by the goaltender.
The Canadians got off to a strong start against the underdog Latvian squad, and got a couple of great chances in the early going. Sidney Crosby started things off when he got a great breakaway about three minutes into the game, but his shot attempt was stopped. His Penguins teammate Chris Kunitz got another chance shortly after that, but his shot ended up ringing off the crossbar to keep things scoreless.
Despite a Sharp penalty near the middle of the period, the Canadians were still dominating the shot total and puck possession time, and Rick Nash finally made something happen for them on offense to give his team the lead. On the play, Nash got the puck in the slot, and patiently made his way behind the net and around to the front. He found Sharp sitting unmarked in the slot, and the Blackhawks’ sniper drilled a one-timer into the net to put the Canadians up 1-0.
In a bit of sneaky play, the Latvians tied things up just a short time later. Off a face-off that the Latvian side won in the defensive zone, defenseman Arturs Kulda brought the puck back while a couple of players went off on a line change. One player that came on was Lauris Darzins, who snuck behind the Canadian defense and got a breakaway as a result. His fake slapshot fooled Carey Price, and he easily potted the goal to tie things up at 1-1.
The goal seemed to leave the Canadians a bit shell-shocked, as their offense struggled to regain their footing as the period came to a close. Neither side got many more good chances in the final four minutes of the frame, and the sides headed to the locker room with the score still knotted after the first period of play.
In the opening seconds of the second period, Jeff Carter came alive for the Canadians, picking up a great forehand chance in front of the net, but Gudlevskis still managed to stop him.
Unfortunately for Canada, they got some bad injury news shortly after that play. John Tavares was drilled along the boards by Kulda, and he ended up limping off the ice and into the dressing room, where he would remain for the remainder of the period.
The Latvians and Canadians traded power plays later in the period, but neither team was really able to do anything with their chances. Canada had a tough time in setting up their offense around the perimeter of the ice, while on Latvia’s man-advantage they couldn’t seem to figure out their zone entries, and as a result both teams remained tied despite the big opportunities.
Corey Perry did get a great chance later in the period from behind the net, but once again Gudlevskis was able to stuff the attempt. The Latvians committed a late infraction with about 20 seconds remaining in the period, but Canada was unable to convert on the first part of their power play as the two teams hit intermission still tied 1-1.
As the third period got underway, the already intense Canadian pressure was amplified up even more. Shea Weber blasted a slapshot in from the point on one of the better opportunities, and the shot felled Latvian defender Oskars Bartulis.
On the very next sequence, the Canadians thought they had taken the lead. Patrick Marleau had a fantastic shift for Canada, and he passed to Drew Doughty at the point, the Kings defenseman unleashed a slapshot that hit traffic in front. Both Jeff Carter and Jonathan Toews both went after the puck, but they were prevented from scoring as a Latvian defenseman was able to put his hand on the puck in the crease to keep it out of the net. Video review did not overturn the ruling, and the game remained tied.
After several more chances, the Canadians were given another power play, and even though it took nearly the entirety of the two minutes, they were finally able to get a puck into the net. Weber got another opportunity from out at the point after the puck pinballed around the zone, and thanks to some great puck movement by Canada, the Latvian defense was in no position to prevent the shot from getting on goal, and it ended up sneaking into the net to give the Canadians a 2-1 lead late in the game.