The plot thickens. Michael Haga scored in the shootout as Norway beat Latvia 4-3 in Group B action on Friday at Arena Riga. The result leaves Latvia in fourth place with eight points, while Norway is seventh with five points.
Haga tucked a nice forehand move past Latvian goalie Matiss Kivlenieks's right pad, and the Norwegian bench celebrated.
"We came for the win, we didn’t get it," said Latvia's Kristians Rubins. "We started well in the first period and were playing in their D-zone all the time and should have kept playing like that, but unfortunately we didn’t and gave up goals that we shouldn’t have given to them."
In terms of quarter-final aspirations, this was a critical meeting between two countries that will also host Olympic qualification tournaments in August. Latvia's five previous quarter-final appearances came in 1997, 2004, 2004, 2009, and 2018. Norway made the final eight in 2008, 2011, and 2012.
Looking ahead for Norway, defenceman Erlend Lesund said: "It’s still up to us. We need to take some points from our next games, but we’d rather have it like this than the other way around where we’re just here to finish the games without the possibility of the playoffs. We like the situation we’re in, and we’re here to win some more games."
Latvia's two remaining games are against tough opponents in defending champion Finland (Sunday) and Germany (Tuesday). Norway is up against the U.S. (Saturday) and Kazakhstan (Monday).
"In our situation, we needed the regulation win," said Latvian coach Bob Hartley. "We're still alive, but obviously we're gonna need help from people around us. Plus, we're gonna have to win our remaining games."
Norway's Henrik Haukeland didn't have a perfect game, but came away with the victory nonetheless. Final shots favoured Latvia 24-22.
The Norwegians were limited to 15 shots in both of their preceding losses (5-2 to Finland and 4-2 to Canada). Yet they were able to capitalize against less-formidable Latvia, who played without captain Kaspars Daugavins. Hartley confirmed Daugavins is injured and will be reevaluated Saturday.
Latvian defenceman Oskars Cibulskis was shaken up in a collision behind the net with Norway’s Samuel Solem, who stuck out his rear end in Darius Kasparaitis-like fashion. And Sondre Olden drew first blood at 3:50 for coach Petter Thoresen’s team, circling the net and unleashing a backhand attempt that bounced in off defender Arturs Kulda.
For Latvia's 1-1 equalizer at 11:55, Renars Krastenbergs took advantage of a Norwegian turnover at their own blue line, gobbling up the puck and ripping a wrist shot over Haukeland’s glove.
"Krasty has been one of our best players since the start of the tournament," Hartley said of the 22-year-old former Oshawa Generals forward who played six games for Dynamo Riga this season. "He's matured physically and mentally. He's a man now, the way that he competes. He has a great shot, understands the game, plays the game the right way."
With under six minutes left in the first, Ronalds Kenins burst in on a 2-on-0 rush, but Haukeland foiled him on this glorious opportunity with a right pad save. However, after Latvia failed to convert on a power play, Kenins didn’t fail on his next chance, slicing through Norwegian defenders at the blue line and going down on one knee as he knifed a backhand through the goalie’s legs at 17:44.
At 1:08 of the second period, Norway made it 2-2 on a shorthanded marker. Ken Andre Olimb stole the puck from Uvis Balinskis at the Norwegian blueline and raced in on a breakaway to score high to the glove side.
"I think when you look at our games, we’ve come out strong each period," said Norway's Emilio Pettersen. "We’re just a team that’s ready to go right off the bat, and maybe we can kind of catch teams sleeping."
The middle frame, although featuring long stretches of uninterrupted play, was nothing if not physical.
There was a delay after Pettersen inadvertently wiped out veteran referee Antonin Jerabek behind the Latvian net, but Jerabek got up and would continue. Erlend Lesund laid a massive open-ice hit on Rodrigo Abos at the Norwegian blue line that snapped the Latvian forward's stick.
Magnus Brekke Henriksen was penalized for a late bodycheck on Latvia's Mikelis Redlihs, who had not even touched the puck along the boards, but the potential man advantage was nullified when Miks Indrasis jumped in and got a roughing minor.
"They played physical, we played physical, and maybe they played a little dirtier, but that doesn't do anything," said Krastenbergs. "The physicality wasn't a problem."
In the third, Norway made it with another early goal. At 1:56, Pettersen fired a one-timer from the high slot, set up by Mats Rosseli Olsen, under Kivlenieks' arm.
"Great pass, he’s a really good player and found me in the slot there," Pettersen said. "We have good chemistry."
Haukeland would like to have had back Latvia's 3-3 tying goal at 9:42. Coming down left wing, Kristians Rubins slid the puck on net from the bottom of the faceoff circle and it slipped under the kneeling Norwegian goalie's pads.
Norway got three power plays in the third period, and Hartley was not pleased with the call that sent off Cibulskis for tripping up Ken Andre Olimb behind the Latvian net with under seven minutes to go. Still, the hosts weathered the storm, thanks in part to a great glove grab by Kivelenieks off Ken Andre Olimb.
In overtime, Pettersen hauled Rodrigo Abols down on a break, and the Latvians went to a 4-on-3 power play. Despite strong pressure, the Norwegians held off Latvia, feeding off plays like a gritty shot block by (once again) Ken Andre Olimb.
Norwegian captain Jonas Holos, playing his 15th IIHF World Championship, appeared in his 100th career game at this tournament. The 33-year-old defenceman is the all-time national team leader.
Latvia has dominated this rivalry over the years, but the countries split their last four Worlds meetings dating back to 2010. In the last one in 2018, Rudolf Balcers scored 24 seconds into overtime in a 3-2 Latvian win.