BRATISLAVA – Mads Christensen scored the shootout winner and two regulation-time goals to give Denmark a Qualification Round berth with a 3-2 victory over Latvia on Wednesday. The result sends the Latvians to the Relegation Round.
Denmark – Latvia 3-2 (1-0, 1-2, 0-0, 0-0, 1-0) Game Sheet Photos
"We're missing seven or eight players from last year, and considering that, this may be an even bigger feat than last year's quarter-final," said Danish coach Per Bäckman.
Martins Cipulis and Jekabs Redlihs replied for Latvia, while Aleksandrs Nizivijs added a pair of assists.
"We must score on our chances, but the games are so close, and it comes down to luck," said Nizivijs. "Today wasn't our day."
Danish goalie Frederik Andersen outduelled Latvian starter Edgars Masalskis as Latvia outshot Denmark 39-29 before 8,770 spectators at Orange Arena.
Denmark takes on Russia to kick off the Qualification Round on Thursday. The Latvians will face winless Slovenia that day.
"We've taken a step up now, and it seems like we've established ourselves as a Qualification Round team," said Danish defenceman Mads Bödker.
The Danes opened the scoring at 1:43 when Christensen one-timed home a rising slapshot from the top of the left faceoff circle. After a fast-paced first 10 minutes, the teams settled into a more conservative groove, although the Latvians generated some pressure in the Danish zone with good forechecking.
At the start of the second period, the Danes nearly doubled their lead. Captain Morten Green cut past the crease of Masalskis and could have lifted the puck home if he hadn’t been hooked by Martins Cipulis. During the ensuing Danish power play, Latvia’s Lauris Darzins was helped off the ice after taking a Daniel Nielsen slapper off the inside of his knee.
Laden with oft-overlapping minor penalties (nine in total), the second period had no set rhythm, including two Danish delay-of-game calls for flipping the puck over the glass in their own end.
The Latvians tied it up at 3:03, as Cipulis redeemed himself by deftly tipping Oskars Cibulskis’s drive from the point. That gave them a little momentum, but they couldn’t capitalize.
Christensen made it 2-1 Denmark at 8:27 of the second. The 24-year-old centre from Eisbären Berlin caught the Latvian defence backing in off the rush, cut to the slot, and fired a partially screened shot past Masalskis.
Latvia made it 2-2 at 15:14 after breaking down the Danish defence, as Nizivijs backhanded a stray puck from the goal line to Jekabs Redlihs, who hammered it into the gaping cage with Masalskis caught going the wrong way.
A late third-period penalty to Denmark’s Philip Hersby for slashing Kaspars Saulietis gave the Latvians the perfect opportunity, but they couldn’t score on the power play. Andersen made a stunning save on a Cipulis one-timer with under two minutes left to keep the score tied and send the game to overtime, which settled nothing.
For the shootout, Denmark won the right to shoot first, and it unfolded as follows (according to the IIHF game-winning shots procedure, in which three different shooters from each team take alternate shots until a decisive goal is scored – and if the game is still tied after three shots by each team, the GWS continues with a tie-break shootout by one player of each team, with the shooting order reversed):
Round 1: DEN, Green - Masalskis save. LAT, Nizivijs - Andersen save.
Round 2: DEN, Madsen - Masalskis save. LAT, Vasiljevs - Andersen save.
Round 3: DEN, Jakobsen - Masalskis save. LAT, Dzerins - Andersen save.
Round 4: LAT, Nizivijs - miss. DEN, Christensen - goal.
"We've won all our penalty shootouts in exhibition games, so we weren't nervous," said Mads Bödker. "And it was fantastic that Mads Christensen scored three times."
The Latvians head to the Relegation Round for the third time since entering the Top Division in 1997. They have never failed to survive, but that record may be tested in the absence of key NHL defencemen like Karlis Skrastins (Dallas) and Oskars Bartulis (Philadelphia). Latvian blueliner Arturs Kulda didn’t play against Denmark, and still has one more game to serve from his three-game suspension for a bad hit on the Czech Republic’s Radek Martinek.
This was just the second encounter ever between Denmark and Latvia at an IIHF World Championship. Latvia won the first one 4-2 in the Qualification Round on May 6, 2003 in Finland.