KOSICE – Georgijs Pujacs and Martins Cipulis had two goals each as Latvia doubled Belarus 6-3 in their Relegation Round match in Kosice.
Latvia jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first period, and then survived a couple of wobbles, before settling with the win.
Belarus vs. Latvia 3-6 (1-3, 1-1, 1-2) Game Sheet Photos
The victory by Latvia, combined with the result of the game between Slovenia and Austria in Bratislava, sets the stage for a dramatic final day of Relegation Round play. The win gives Latvia three points (one win, one loss) in the Relegation Round. Belarus also has three points (one win, one loss). Both teams close out play on Sunday with Belarus playing Slovenia and Latvia meeting Austria. The top two of four teams in the Relegation Round will play in next year’s World Championship, while the bottom two will play in Division I.
Here’s some deductive reasoning: Team’s aren’t in the Relegation Round because of their consistent play. And there was loads of inconsistency on display in Saturday’s Relegation Round game between Latvia and Belarus. It made for a very entertaining hockey game.
Belarus controlled the second period, but the first and third were Latvia’s.
Cipulis’ second goal of the game, on a power play at 9:44 of the third, seemed to spike any lingering hopes Belarus had of mounting a third period charge. Cipulis was loose in front of Belarus goalie Andrei Mezin, took a pass from teammate Aleksandrs Nizivijs and fired the puck past Mezin to make it 5-2 Latvia.
Kaspars Saulietis rubbed salt into the wound at 17:29 when he converted on Mikelis Redlihs’ pass out from behind the net and scored to make it 6-2.
Dmitri Meleshko scored for Belarus with ten seconds remaining in the game.
"I won't lie, it was mentally tough to get ready for this game," said Latvia captain Herberts Vasiljevs. "We were so close to winning a couple of games in Bratislava. We got beat by Slovenia, a game we thought we should have won and all of a sudden everything turned upside down. We came out ready to play today."
Belarus had looked as though they were going to be able to turn a shaky first period around in the second.
Belarus started the second trailing Latvia 3-1. But they went on the power play twenty three seconds into the period and, thirty seconds into the power play, Mikhail Grabovski re-directed Dimitri Korobov’s point shot in behind Maskalskis to pull Belarus to within one goal.
The Belarusians picked up back-to-back power plays mid way through the second period and pressed – hard – but weren’t rewarded.
Latvia dampened and rising Belarusian enthusiasm when Nizivijs fired a low wrist shot from the slot that just caught the inside of the right corner behind Mezin at 16:17 to put Latvia ahead 4-2.
The first period was Latvia’s – and it was their power play got them off to a good start in the game. Mezin took a delay of game penalty 9:20 into the first period. Six seconds later Latvia’s Arvids Rekis fired a wrist shot from the right point that eluded Mezin when it was tipped in front by Cipulis for his first of the game.
Two minutes later Latvia went on the power play again, and scored again. Pujacs scored his first of two when he jumped on a loose puck during a bit of a scramble in front of Mezin and smashed it into the corner at 13:23 to give Latvia a 2-0 lead.
Pujacs added his second at 17:19 when Mikelis Redlihs spotted him as the trailer on a rush and hit him with a crisp cross-ice pass from the right wing. Pujacs bombed the puck home from the top of the right circle to put Latvia up 3-0.
Viktor Kostyuchyonok got one back for Belarus at 19:31 when his left point shot beat Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis.
"The main thing today was we started off with a couple of very good power plays," said Vasiljevs. "I think we had the better team tonight and we wanted it more."
"It seems this year the teams we play against are just better than we are right now," said Belarusian captain Mikhail Grabovski. "We need to start working, not just with the national team, but with young hockey players."