On Tuesday, Italian starting goalie Andreas Bernard embodied the phrase "giving his team a chance to win." However, Latvia's persistence killed Italy's hopes. Coach Bob Hartley's team outshot the Italians 65-15 in a 3-0 win at Ondrej Nepela Arena.
"After the second period, I saw there was 50 shots already," said Bernard. "So I was like, 'Oh my God!' But I just kept the mindset of 'Take the next one, and I don't care if it's 70 or 80.' But I was lucky that the team helped me out in the last period and tried to get that goal. It just didn't work out today."
Latvia's shots on goal equalled the third-highest total by one team in tournament history. Canada also fired 65 shots in a 5-1 win over Slovenia on 2 May 2008. The Canadians hold the single-game record with 114 shots in a 33-0 win over Belgium on 15 March 1950.
"I was sitting on the bench, talking with the guys, telling that this is the first time our team got so many shots," said Latvian defenceman Arturs Kulda. "I am really shocked. I would never believe we're in third place now!"
Roberts Bukarts, Rihards Marenis and Teddy Blugers scored for Latvia, which bounced back for its second victory after falling 3-1 to Switzerland in its last game. The Italians have lost three straight and remain the only goalless team at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
It was the fourth straight Latvian win over Italy at the Worlds. Italy last defeated Latvia 4-3 on Jason Cirone's overtime goal on 2 May 2007 in Moscow.
"We've got to give credit to Italy too," said Latvian captain Lauris Darzins. "It's the World Championship and the players have been selected from a lot of teams. So they're Italy's best guys and we have to respect that. It was amazing. We knew that the neutral zone and their defensive zone were going to be really packed. We had to find some seams."
In the first period, Bernard was on the receiving end of a whole lotta Latvian Corsi. Latvia’s Kristers Gudlevskis, who was en route to his first career Worlds shutout, was experiencing the polar opposite of his 55-save performance in a 2-1 quarter-final loss to Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Outmatched, outskated, and outshot 21-3, Italy was lucky to get through 20 minutes with a scoreless draw."I knew they were a good team," said Bernard. "But I didn't expect them to shoot that much. I was expecting it'd be even. But they play in the KHL and we play -- well, I play in a better league -- but most of the guys played in the Alps Hockey League, and it's not that as high of a level as the KHL."
The Italians had a minor tragedy when they thought they’d scored their first goal of these Worlds. At 17:40, Diego Kostner fired an off-wing shot from the left side that deflected in off defenceman Guntis Galvins. However, Hartley challenged the play, claiming it was offside, and the goal was overturned after a video review.
The target practice continued in the second period. Finally, on the 35th Latvian shot, the red light went on at 9:11, thanks to a brother combo. Surrounded by Italian defenders in the slot, Rihards Bukarts whacked the puck on his backhand and found Roberts Bukarts by the left post, where he backhanded it just past the lunging Bernard.
Considering it took Kevin Fiala just 1:17 to open the scoring in Italy’s 9-0 loss to Switzerland and Anton Lander just 2:10 to do the same in the 8-0 loss to Sweden, this was a significant improvement.
Bernard, who recently jumped to Adler Mannheim after four seasons with Assat Pori, didn’t fold his tent. He came across to stone Rihards Marenis with his right pad when Teddy Blugers set him up on an odd-man break.
Martins Dzierkals missed a glorious chance to extend Latvia's lead when Bernard bobbled a shot up in the air. He put the puck through the crease. Roberts Bukarts nearly had his second goal in tight, but put it off the side of the net . The Italians were still hanging on.
It took a perfect shot by Marenis from the right faceoff circle to make it 2-0 at 18:14. He handcuffed Bernard with a rising laser on the short side and celebrated with wild abandon, pounding the glass. It was a big relief for the maroon-and-white faithful among the 5,532 in attendance, with their determined drums and chants of "Sarauj!"
Bernard never stopped battling. Just before the middle frame ended, he foiled Gints Meija with a behind-the-back save reminiscent of a stop Nashville's Finnish great, Pekka Rinne, made versus the Anaheim Ducks back in November. At the siren, he collapsed backward against the cross bar and looked skyward.
"I saw the rebound got up in the air and I tried to hit it," said Bernard. "I just kept my eyes on the puck and I turned myself and grabbed at it. It was a lucky one. Sometimes it's OK to get those!"
In the third period, the Latvian barrage slowed a little. Italy's Joachim Ramoser was shaken up in a collision near his bench with under seven minutes to play and was helped off to get an ice bag on the bench.
After the Italians failed to capitalize when Rihards Bukarts took his team's first minor of the game, they pulled Bernard for the extra attacker with 1:19 left. Blugers scored an empty-netter with 55 seconds left on his team's 65th shot of the game to round out the scoring at 3-0.
"We had a power play and wanted to score on that but we couldn’t," said Italian forward Luca Zanatta. "That would have made the game totally different. We tried to get the goal at the end to make it closer but it didn’t go our way."
Darzins praised Bernard: "He had an awesome game. I think he deserved the Player of the Game for Team Italy. He always controlled the rebounds. We didn't get too many secondary chances. I'm happy for him, but thankfully he let in a couple of goals, so we could get a W."
The Swiss outshot Italy 61-19, while Sweden had a 58-13 edge. Italian team physiotherapist Guido Tonelli will need to continue taking good care of his goalies.
Of Bernard, Zanatta noted: "He’s going to have cramps, he’s going to need lots of liquids in his body."
Life does not get easier for either of these teams. The Italians take on Russia on Wednesday, while the Latvians face the Czechs on Thursday.
"We'll need to get points," said Kulda. "We want to make the quarter-finals. So it's going to be a big game for us."