BERNE – Despite having already secured the top spot in the group, Russia didn’t allow any bad habits to creep into its game, and rolled over Latvia in its last Qualification Round game, 6-1.
Anton Kuryanov and Oleg Tverdovsky scored two goals each and Alexander Eremenko made 25 saves for Russia. The defending world champions put the game away in the second period, when they scored three goals in a span of three minutes.
"Our first period was good, we had some chances but didn't score. They scored a few goals in five minutes in the second and that was it," Latvia's defenceman Karlis Skrastins said.
"It's tough to come back against the world champions. Our strength is to be good defensively, and once we were trailing, we had to try to go forward, it wasn't our kind of game," he added.
If the teams’ previous matchups were to be any indication, anything was possible. Either a low-scoring battle or a run-and-gun showdown: Latvia had won the teams’ two previous matchups in World Championships, 2003 (2-1) and 2000 (3-2), but lost in 1998 (7-5).
The 2009 game was something in-between, with Russia firmly in command from beginning to end.
"It was difficult to motivate the players to the game which had no bearing on the standings, but they did take it seriously and played well," Russian coach Vyacheslav Bykov said.
Already halfway through the first period, Russia improved its alread impressive power play statistics when Olegs Sorokins got an intereference penalty.
Sergei Mozyakin got the puck behind the net, he went around the net and sent a pass across the crease straight to Anton Kuryanov low on the faceoff circle, and Kuryanov beat Edgars Masalskis with a wrist shot to give Russia 1-0 lead at 11:43.
Latvian fans got a scare at the end of the period when Georgijs Pujacs was sent off for delaying the game but an Ilya Kovalchuk’s onetimer went wide on an open net.
Russia came strong out of the gate in the second period, scoring three goals within three minutes.
First at 21:01, Ilya Kovalchuk seemed determined to make something happen as he got the puck in the neutral zone. He took it to the Latvian zone, went around two Latvian players and sent a nice pass to Alexander Tereschenko, who onetimed it to the topshelf on gloveside with a slapshot, to make it 2-0.
Two minutes later, Oleg Tverdovsky did a Bobby Orr-like end-to-end rush, skating between two Latvian defencemen, then lifting the puck over Masalskis to give Russia a three-goal lead at 23:04.
But the fireworks weren’t over. At 23:50 Russia scored again as Kuryanov and Alexander Perezhogin tic-tac-toed the puck through the Latvian defence, to Perezhogin, who took a shot. Masalskis made a leg save but the rebound came to Kuryanov, who sent the puck in with a backhander for 4-0.
Not the start Latvia had wanted for the second period.
With 3:55 remaining in the second period, Russia got a taste of its own medicine when Latvia struck on power play. Guntis Galvins sent the puck to the net from the blueline, and Herberts Vasiljevs’ deflection caught Alexander Eremenko by surprise and put Latvia on the board, 4-1.
Latvia got off to a bad start in the third period as well. Alexander Frolov carried the puck to the Latvian zone, and as a Latvian defenceman tried to stop him at the faceoff point, he did a spinorama, and as he turned he sent the puck to the back of the net with a backhand shot beating Masalskis on the stick side, to make it 5-1 at 43:38.
Still not enough for Russia.
At 46:28, Oleg Tverdosky made it 6-1 with his second of the night with a slap shot from the faceoff circle, assisted by Sergei Zinoviev, who sent a nice cross ice pass to Tverdovsky.
Russia enters the quarterfinals as the top-seeded team in Group E. Latvia's spot in the quarterfinal depends on the final score of tomorrow's USA-Switzerland game.
If Switzerland beats the Americans in regulation time, Latvia finishes fifth in the group, and will not make the quarterfinal (unless France does not beat Sweden in regulation time, too). In case the Swiss lose a point, Latvia is in the quarterfinals.
"I'm proud of the team, now we just have to wait and see. I believe we'll make the quarterfinal. We've played a great tournament," Latvia captain Skrastins said.