MANNHEIM – Captain Tomas Rolinek scored two shorthanded goals to lead the Czech Republic to a 3-1 win over Latvia on Monday. The result eliminates Latvia from quarterfinals contention, while the Czechs took another big step forward.
The Czechs still need at least one more point from their Qualification Round-closing game against Canada on Tuesday to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. If the Czechs can't pull that off, the Norwegians will make the quarterfinals.
Latvia's tournament, meanwhile, is over. The never-say-die Baltic nation registers its third straight Top-12 finish, but fails to make the final eight, which it managed in 1997, 2000, 2004, and 2009.
Duelling with heroic Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis, Tomas Vokoun recorded his third tournament win as his team outshot Latvia 32-26.
"It was life and death tonight, and it will be again tomorrow," said Vokoun. "We’ve put ourselves in a bad position and now we win or go home."
"We stayed alive in the first period, but then we allowed two short-handed goals and that’s why we lost it," Masalskis said.
The last major encounter between these two sides was at the Olympics in Vancouver, where the Czechs ousted Latvia with a 3-2 win in a qualification playoff encounter.
In the first five minutes, the Czechs kept the Latvians penned in their own zone like a pack of hungry wolves surrounding a chicken coop. Latvia didn't register a shot on goal until nearly halfway through the period.
Czech pressure intensified during an extended man advantage, including 34 seconds with a 5-on-3, but the red-and-blue team still couldn't outwit Masalskis or the penalty-killers. Shots on goal favoured the Czechs 16-2 in the opening stanza.
The Czechs finally got on the board at 2:21 of the second period when Rolinek beat Masalskis on a shorthanded odd-man rush with Petr Koukal, crashing heavily into the goal post as he scored. Rolinek left the ice in some discomfort, but would return to action, fortunately for his team.
The Czechs came close to taking a two-goal lead when they got another shorthanded rush, this time a 3-on-1, but couldn't cash in.
Halfway through the game, Jaromir Jagr was sent off for hooking down Kaspars Saulities in the Latvian zone. When his mates killed off the minor, the legendary winger returned to spark more offensive pressure. But the Czechs still struggled to beat Masalskis. The Latvian goalie got lucky on a shot that slipped through his five-hole but deflected wide.
Yet finally, the Czechs got another shorthanded tally from Rolinek. With 2:09 left in the second period, he burst down left wing and hammered a shot over Masalskis' glove from the top of the faceoff circle.
"The second goal was the turning point," said Masalskis. "They scored and that was it."
The Latvians didn't give up. Just past the midpoint of the third period, Lauris Darzins cut to the net and nearly shoveled the puck past Vokoun, but the Czech goalie lay down on it. Video review indicated the puck did not go in.
Latvia cut the deficit to 2-1 with 7:55 left in the game when Sergejs Pecura glided into the high slot and unleashed a wrister over Vokoun's glove, to the delight of the drum-beating Latvian fans. Once again, the officials went to video review, and this time it clearly counted.
The Czech Republic had a quick and decisive response. Just 46 seconds later, Roman Cervenka finished off a sweet give-and-go with Jiri Novotny, making it a 3-1 game. The Latvians never recovered, and the Czechs played stifling defence as the clock ticked down.
"We had a tough time scoring 5-on-5 in this tournament, so we didn’t want to give them the first goal and have to come from behind again," Vokoun noted. "Teams play such good defence here."
Latvia's three best players of the tournament were honoured after the game: Edgars Masalskis, Herberts Vasiljevs, and Arvids Rekis.
Attendance at SAP Arena was 3,354.