MANNHEIM – With a 5-0 win over Norway on Sunday, Latvia kept alive its slim hopes of making the quarterfinals. The Latvians exploded for five third-period goals, two by Janis Sprukts.
The Latvians close out the Qualification Round against the Czechs on Monday, while Norway faces Group F-leading Switzerland that day. Norway, Latvia, and the Czechs are currently tied with three points apiece.
This game didn't provide thrilling hockey for the 1,925 in attendance, unless more than two periods of scoreless action kept you on pins and needles as a fan of either nation. Through two periods, the Latvians and the Norwegians played like they were afraid to lose, but one team had to.
"We knew this was an important game for both teams, so nobody wanted to risk anything on offence," said Latvia's Kaspars Daugavins. "Everybody played smart, defensive hockey, no crazy passes in the neutral zone, so it wasn’t a lot of fun to watch."
Lauris Darzins scored the winning goal early in the third period. At 2:06, after a faceoff win by Andris Dzerins in the Norwegian end, Kristaps Sotnieks took a shot from the right point that Darzins tipped high, beating goalie Pål Grotnes through traffic.
Then the Latvians took it away from there.
Latvia's Edgars Masalskis earned his first shutout of the tournament as Norway outshot Latvia 30-28.
"Both teams played really carefully because we knew the team that scored first would have a big advantage, and we had to win," said Masalskis. "A tie [after regulation] wasn’t good enough."
Not surprisingly, the Norwegians were extra-cautious after getting bombed 12-1 by Canada in their last outing. The Latvians, meanwhile, were hoping to pick up their first points of the Qualification Round, their only previous tournament win having come over Relegation Round-destined Italy.
The most memorable part of the first period was the between-whistles, disco-flavoured soundtrack (a slight change from the regular musical fare at SAP Arena), which included KISS's “I Was Made For Loving You” and Dr. Alban's “Sing Hallelujah.”
Midway through the period, Grotnes made a nice save on Martins Cipulis, set up from behind the goal line by Aleksandrs Nizivijs. Masalskis stopped an Anders Fredriksen tip and an Ole-Kristian Tollefsen slapper during the lone Latvian power play. The Norwegians finished with an offensive flurry around Latvia's net. But otherwise, little happened.
Although Norway took four minors in the second period, giving Latvia a two-man advantage half through the game, and the Latvians took two of their own, the teams remained ineffective both with the power play and at even strength.
About three minutes after the first Latvian goal, Grotnes had to be sharp to glove down a Janis Sprukts one-timer from the right side.
In a crucial sequence, the Norwegians failed to cash in during an extended two-man advantage just after the five-minute mark of the third. And at 8:45, the Latvians made special teams work in their favour, with some good power play puck movement, as Martins Cipulis pounded a high drive past the stick side of Grotnes for a 2-0 lead.
"In the third, we started to go on offence more," Masalskis said.
Norwegian coach Roy Johansen called a timeout to settle down his team. But a late minor to Lars Løkken Østli destroyed hopes of a comeback. With 2:58 left, Sprukts added another power play tally with a deft tip to make it 3-0.
Although Norway got a late power play, Sprukts scored into an empty net with Grotnes pulled for the extra attacker. Guntis Galvins added one more, beating Grotnes with six seconds left.