BERNE – Led by the courageous play of goaltender Edgars Masalskis, Latvia pushed Switzerland to the edge in its first Qualification Round game, but it had to go the longest route to get the win, 2-1 in a penalty shootout. Aleksandrs Nizivijs scored the shootout winner.
"Yesterday's game was tough, and we had little time to recover from it. Considering that, their play tonight was heroic," Latvia's coach Olegs Znaroks said.
Is there a word for “keeping your cool and working hard even when the other guy takes a shot, or 40, at you”? Well, from now on, when you find yourself in a situation like that, you can just “masalskis” it. It’s a verb that means that you will just keep doing your job and focus on the task at hand, while carrying a team on your shoulders, just as Edgars Masalskis demonstrated in the game against Switzerland.
"Our goalie was the story of the game, he was excellent. With a goalie like that, we weren't worried about being outshot," Latvia's captain Karlis Skrastins said.
The name of the game became clear early on. The Latvians were comfortable defending, shooting the puck out of their own zone, and relying on their transition game, so the Swiss were given the keys to the game early on. Especially when Latvia also took three minor penalties in the first 11 minutes of the game.
Switzerland had 15 shots on goal in the first period, Latvia five.
But it’s not the number of shots that counts, it’s the number of goals.
And at 15.30, Latvia scored one. Switerland had a turnover in the offensive zone. Herberts Vasiljevs anticipated it and got a head start on the Swiss defence, creating a two-on-one attack. He sent the puck to Martins Cipulis who was flying down the right lane. Cipulis one-timed it into the Swiss net.
It was Latvia’s second shot of the game.
In the second period, Latvia created more chances, thanks to a few power play situations, but it was still Switzerland that was in control of the game. They outshot Latvia 12-9.
The many power plays also made Swiss coach Ralph Krueger use his first unit a lot. Mark Streit, the Switzerland captain, played 34:30 tonight.
At the beginning of the third period, Latvia had a rare 4-on-3 power play, and it created a few chances, but Martin Gerber in the Swiss goal was too much for them.
Back on full strength, Switzerland sent attack after attack to the Latvian zone, but their shots hit either Masalskis, another Latvian player, or the goalpost.
Latvia had four two-minute penalties in the third period, and with 1:31 remaining, on the fourth power play, coach Krueger replaced Gerber with an extra skater. That helped and the Swiss finally found a way to get the puck behind Masalskis.
Roman Wick sent a wraparound pass to the front of the net, and Andres Ambühl tipped it in to take the game into overtime.
But five minutes of four-on-four play didn't bring more goals, and the winner was determined in a penalty shootout.
Unlike in Latvia's game against Sweden, coach Olegs Znaroks kept Masalskis in the net.
It was worth it, as none of the Swiss players managed to beat him, while Aleksandrs Nizivijs beat Gerber on the glove side with a nice wrist shot, giving Latvia the important two points.
"I was sure we'd win, this team is unreal, we can beat every team here. We have a great locker room, I've never seen guys like this around me," Skrastins said.
For Switzerland, it was a bitter loss.
"It's tough to say what happened, we created a lot of chances and had more opportunities to win the game than the Latvians. We just scored too late. This was one of the most important games in the tournament for us, so this hurts," Mathias Seger said.
Both Latvia, Sweden, and Switzerland have four points with two games to play. The US, second in Group E, also has four points, but they play their third game tomorrow, against France.
"Maybe our players want to show the home crowd too much, and they don't have some of the coolness you need in the quality chances we had. We have to put the shots on the net. It's been hard for home teams to be successful, but we're not done here yet. This group is wide open," said Switzerland's coach Ralph Krueger.