HALIFAX – Once the 2008 IIHF World Championship is over for Latvia, Edgars Masalskis will need a long and well-deserved vacation. Masalskis put in a valiant effort in making 62 saves but could not keep his team from losing to Finland 2-1.
A third period goal by Niko Kapanen proved the game-winner with 9:16 remaining, keeping Finland away from having to play another overtime contest.
Finland’s first period was one of the most dominant twenty minutes of hockey at this tournament. Finland controlled every aspect of the play and created chances from every possible area in the offensive zone.
With all the action in the period, it was Latvia who would draw first blood. Lauris Darzins scored 1:27 into the game when he picked up a loose puck from behind the net, splitting between Sami Lepisto and Anssi Salmela to take a wide-angle shot that beat Niklas Backstrom.
Discipline was Latvia’s big problem today. There were seven penalties called on Latvia in the first period, including a succession of infractions on Georgijs Pujacs, Herberts Vasiljevs, and Krisjanis Redlihs. Latvia was able to kill off these two-man down situations.
The other story of the game was the inability of Finland to score on the power play. With Latvia taking so many penalties, the Finns should have come away with much more but instead both goals were scored at even strength.
Masalskis was sublime this afternoon at Halifax Metro Centre. He played his position well and showed much poise in handling the Finnish attack.
In the period Finland outshot Latvia a whopping 36-5. Were it not for Masalskis, this game would have been over mid-way through the first.
"I feel pretty tired now" said a weary Masalskis. "I think it was the first time in my career where I had that many shots in a period."
Olli Jokinen led the way with seven shots; Peltonen and Hannes Hyvonen had six apiece.
"After the first with so many shots we felt ready to score," said Peltonen. "It would have been worse if we didn't get any shots.
Things normalized somewhat in the second period. Darzins had another excellent chance to add to Latvia’s lead less than two minutes in, just like the first period but could not convert.
Finland finally solved the riddle that was Masalskis when Antti Pihlstrom took a crisp pass from Janne Niskala and was off to the races. Pihlstrom beat the Latvian netminder stickside to tie the score.
In the waning minutes of the game Latvia’s Aleksandrs Macijevskis had a great scoring chance dead on but was stopped. After pulling their goaltender Latvia had its best chance with only seconds remaining. Armands Berzins skating near the crease had a wide open side but a sprawled Backstrom was able to get his stick out and then smother the puck with 2.8 seconds left.
In the end, Kapanen’s wrister saved Finland from another overtime game. With the power outage on man advantage special teams play, Finland will have to address this issue if they are to be successful the rest of the way.
"We have a lot of adjustments to make," said Peltonen assessing his team's performance. "Our team play is not where we want it to be. We have to improve and we have to improve fast."
The game marked Saku Koivu’s first game of the tournament for Finland. Koivu centered a line with Ville Peltonen and Teemu Selanne.
In his four appearances at the World Championships this year, Masalskis has faced 148 shots.
"Right now I feel empty," said Masalskis in defeat. "We worked so hard and my teammates blocked so many shots but there were so many penalties it was crazy."
Oddly, Masalskis was not named Latvian player of the game, Rodrigo Lavins was, which drew the ire of the crowd given how well the goaltender played.