HELSINKI – Both teams needed points, but Latvia was a little more desperate to get them. Janis Sprukts scored one and added two assists as Latvia beat France 3-1.
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"It was big. We needed to get some points. Of course we need to get as many as we can. But we’re just looking game by game," Sprukts said.
Kristers Gudlevskis made 28 saves for Latvia.
France needed to win the game to stay in the quarter-final hunt, with one game remaining, and for Latvia, three points were crucial to avoid relegation.
"It was nice to get this win to have a chance to stay in the top division. Especially if we beat Finland, we have a shot at being in the quarter-finals," Gudlevskis said.
Before Monday’s game, Latvia had never lost a World Championship game to France. Their record was a perfect 3-0, with a 21-8 goal differential. Impressive, even if the last game between the two nations was played in 2009.
Latvia’s record is still perfect, 4-0, the goal differential now 24-9.
"I think we had a pretty good chance [to succeed in this tournament], and we kind of [messed] it up tonight, because I think we could win that game if we got into the game right away. Scoring first would probably have changed the momentum of the game," France's Sacha Treille said.
In the first period, the game flowed from one end to the other, and both teams had their share of chances.
Then Latvia got a power play opportunity, and their unit only needed 22 seconds to get the puck to the net. Ralfs Freibergs took a shot from the point, Janis Sprukts deflected it in the slot, and while Cristobal Huet made a great save with his left pad, Martins Cipulis took the rebound, and slammed it in at 14:52, to give Latvia a 1-0 lead in the game.
Five minutes into the second period, France turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Cipulis made a quick transition play, sending Sprukts on a breakaway, and he beat Huet with a quick wrister high on the glove side at 5:07.
Early in the third period, France got a golden opportunity to get back into the game when they played 43 seconds with a two-man advantage. Latvia killed off the first penalty, but with 33 seconds reaming in the second penalty, France’s power play worked.
Kevin Hecquefeuille found Yorick Treille waiting next to Latvia’s net. He played the puck to the front of the net and Julien Desrosiers one-timed it in from the doorstep. The play was reviewed twice, before it was determined that the puck had indeed crossed the goal line.
"It’s too bad. In the third period, we had a 5-on-3, and that was a big moment in the game. Unfortunately, they killed it off. They found a hole later and scored the third goal," said Vincent Bachet.
Just 1:07 later, France was back on a power play, when Kristaps Sotnieks received a minor and a 10-minute misconduct penalty for checking to the the head. France had good chances - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s shot hit the crossbar - but Gudlevskis was solid in Latvia’s goal.
France outshot Latvia 15-6 in the third period, but that didn’t help when France turned the puck over in their own zone, and Sprukts set up Lauris Darzins in the slot. The team captain beat Huet high on the glove side from a point blank range, and gave Latvia a two-goal lead with three and a half minutes remaining in the third period.
France will play against Germany on Tuesday.
"It’s not going to be up to us, I think, about whether we go to the quarter-finals," Treille said.
"The game tomorrow will be very important for us. We have to show our true face tomorrow," Bachet said.
Latvia's last preliminary round game is against Finland.
"We’ll rest tonight and look tomorrow at what’s going on with the standings," Sprukts said.