BRATISLAVA Ė Finland and Latvia scored two power play goals each, before Finland took a 3-2 win after a game winning shot competition. Jarkko Immonen scored the game winning goal.
Latvia - Finland 3-2 (0-1, 1-0, 1-1, 0-0, 1-0) Game Sheet Photos
Latvia's goaltender Edgars Masalskis made 26 saves in regulation time, but couldn't stop Jarkko Immonen who scored two goals and added an assist. Finland's Mikael Granlund collected two assists.
"Latvia defended well, as expected, so we're happy to get the win in the shootout. Our power play works, which is a good sign for the rest of the tournament," said Granlund.
"That's hockey these days: You lose games on mistakes and win them on power plays. The fewer mistakes you make, the better your chances are," said Masalskis.
In the last five tournaments, Latvia has gone to the quarter-final once, Finland had one silver, two bronze medals, and one quarter-final loss. In their four previous World Championship games against Finland, Latvia had scored only one goal, in Halifax, in 2008. Even then, they lost the game 2-1. There was never a question of which team would take the initiatives, and which one would try to defend and wait for the other teamís mistake.
Just to be clear: Finland was the favourite.
Latvia also gave Finland the keys to the game when they took two penalties in the first period. Latvia managed to kill off the first one, Girts Ankipansís hooking minor, but when Herberts Vasiljevs took a slashing penalty at 12:20, Finland got to work. Mikael Granlund had set up an scoring chance during the first power play sending a long pass to the top of the circle but Jarkko Immonenís onetimer missed the net.
This time, Granlund played the puck quickly from the corner to Jyrki Všlivaara on the blueline. The defenceman took a few steps in, and sent a hard pass to the other side and Jarkko Immonen deflected the puck past Edgars Masalskis to give Finland 1-0 lead.
Finland outshot Latvia 10-6 in the first period, but half of Latviaís shots came from a lone forward on a rush, from the blueline. Finland controlled the puck most of the period, and after the go-ahead goal on power play, the team played with even more confidence.
But one lost faceoff and a lot of traffic in front of the net can make a big difference. Thatís what happened 13:54 into the second period when Finland was playing shorthanded. Andris Dzerins won the faceoff in Finlandís zone, Mikelis Redlihs grabbed the loose puck, sent it to his brother Krisjanis Redlihs on the blueline, and his slapshot beat Teemu Lassila in Finlandís goal to tie the game.
"The game was a lot of work as always, but thanks to the guys who blocked a lot of shots and killed off penalties. It was a hard game, the Finns skating is so strong, but they tired a little bit and we got back into the game," said Masalskis.
Vasiljevs was in the penalty box when Finland scored their first goal, but he made up for it by scoring the 2-1 goal on power play. Georgijs Pujacsís slapshot bounced to the front of the net off the boards, hit Martins Cipulis, and ended up in Finlandís Lasse Kukkonenís feet. Vasiljevs demonstrated his quick hands by beating Lassila with a backhander just 2:12 into the third period.
With 8:21 remaining, Finland got another power play opportunity during which Granlund, Immonen, and Niko Kapanen created several scoring chances, and finally managed to beat Masalskis. Granlund flipped a backhanded saucer to Immonen in the slot. He sent the puck straight to Kapanen who had a fairly easy job to send the puck to the back of the net at 12:51.
The rest of the period was a battle. Finland pushed Latvia to their heels, desperate for the winning goal, but Masalskis held his ground to the end of regulation time.
In the penalty shootout, Immonen and Mikko Koivu scored for Finland, and Lassila stopped Latvia's Nizivijs and Lauris Darzins.
"To be honest, we were looking for a win. Weíre not completely satisfied. We started off with a loss against the Czechs, and now we got one point tonight. Weíre starting to get some points, so the line is starting to point up in the right direction," said Darzins.
"This point doesnít really help us, maybe down the road, but we still have to beat Denmark," said Masalskis.
In their last Preliminary Round game, Latvia takes on Denmark, in a battle for a spot in the Qualification Round.
"Itís going to be a tough game. The loser goes to Kosice (to play in the relegation round) and you donít want to be in that spot. Probably the first couple of shifts are going to be a little nerve-wracking. But weíve been in this position. I think we can handle the pressure and win the game," Darzins said.
Finland's next big test is the Czech Republic.
"They're the reigning world champions, and a great team. The way we played tonight won't be enough against them," said Finland's head coach Jukka Jalonen.