HELSINKI – Team USA got a slow start to the game, but got better as the game got along, and left the rink with a 4-1 win over Latvia in the bag.
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Bobby Butler scored one and added and assist, Paul Stastny assisted two of the U.S. goals while Ben Bishop made 20 saves for Team USA.
"It was a hard-fought game in the first 40 minutes," said the USA's Nate Thompson. "I thought we played well defensively, and Ben Bishop made some huge saves. Overall, our special teams were great today. I think it was a solid win for us."
"One goal is not enough to win a hockey game," said Latvian captain Lauris Darzins. "Our power play has to be better. We also have to score on our breakaways. I had one, as did my linemate. It would be huge if we would get those. Momentum would be on our side and it would be a different game."
Just like in their game against Russia, Latvia came strong out of the gate against the U.S., and caught the American team by surprise. Latvia’s coach Ted Nolan had given the nod to Edgars Masalskis who played the last period in the game against Russia. Team USA’s Ben Bishop played his second game in two days. Latvia had also added the Rochester Americans’ forward Zemgus Girgensons to their lineup.
The U.S. had won five of their last games against Latvia, and haven’t lost a World Championship game to Latvia since 2001 (although they played a 3-3 tie in the 2006 Olympics).
The first period lost some steam after Latvia’s initial push, but what the first period was lacking in action, the second period compensated for it.
Just a minute into the period, Janis Sprukts won a puck battle in the American zone, carried the puck to the corner, turned around and found Arturs Kulda wide open in the slot. Kulda shot a whip of a wrist shot and beat Bishop high on the blocker side.
Exactly 60 seconds was how long it took Team USA to tie the game. Bobby Butler drove hard to the net, Masalskis made a save, and even stopped Butler’s second attempt, but could get his glove on the puck, and Tim Stapleton snapped it from the edge of the crease.
Another 59 seconds later, Juris Stals got a slashing minor, giving the U.S. a golden opportunity to grab a stranglehold of the game.
Paul Stastny and Jacob Trouba played the puck to David Moss to the side of the net. Moss pivoted to the net, and slammed the puck to the net when the second period was just 4:21 old.
Moss also gave Latvia a chance to get back into the game when he got a double minor for high sticking. The first of Moss’s minors were played 4-on-4, as Roberts Jekimovs was also in the penalty box for interference, after he had tried to forecheck Bishop in the corner.
Latvia had its chances, including two breakaways, in the game, but Ben Bishop was solid in the goal. Latvia’s chase was cut short at the halfway mark of the last period when Bobby Butler scored a power play goal. The U.S. power play unit cycled the puck until Tim Stapleton took a slap shot from the blueline. Masalskis made one save, two saves, but Butler backhanded the rebound to the net and makde it 3-1 at 10:55.
Matt Hunwick made it 4-1 just a minute and 26 seconds later with a slap shot from the blueline. Stastny collected his second assist of the game.
Team USA took its second win in two days, and is one of the two teams with a perfect record in Helsinki. The other is its next opponent, Russia.
"Every game gets tougher in this tournament," said Thompson. "Russia is Russia. They have some firepower, they can score some goals, so we have to be ready."
Latvia will take on winless Austria next. "Playing Austria is big," Darzins said. "We still have zero in the standings, so we gotta start to get some points."