Arturs Silovs stopped 29 of 32 shots in 65 minutes of hockey, then denied four of five Austrian shootout attempts to help Latvia win 4-3 and earn a very important extra point in a fierce battle between two teams that aren’t out of the woods regarding relegation, and aren’t quite ready to give up on their playoff chances either.
“We don’t come here to get relegated. We don’t come here to be safe,” said Rihards Bukarts, who had a goal and an assist for Latvia. “That’s old-school style. Latvians don’t do that. Our main goal is to make the quarter-finals. That dream is still alive.”
Latvia is now sixth in the group with five points; Austria is a point back with four.
“That one stinks,” said Austrian captain Thomas Raffl, who also had a goal and an assist for his team. “We knew it was going to be a big one for us and I thought during the whole game we created enough chances, we played a pretty desperate game and going to shootout is pretty much luck for whoever wins the game. It’s a tournament, our goal was to stay in the top division, we still have two games to go. We just need to keep grinding and in the end we’re going to be successful if we keep going.”
Nikolajs Jelisejevs and Roberts Bukarts scored in the shootout for Latvia on Austria’s Bernhard Starkbaum, who earlier in the tournament had stopped all five Czech shooters in the tiebreaker. Dominique Heinrich was the only Austrian shooter to beat Silovs, who was mobbed by his teammates after he made a blocker save off Brian Lebler on the game’s last shot.
“For me I was really hope that my team was going to score,” said Silovs. “I knew I could stop them so I was just thinking ‘Guys, score! We’re going to win this!’ I haven’t played the Austrians a lot, I played them back in juniors but not any more. It’s an important win.”
After two perfect periods in relief against Czechia yesterday, Silovs was given his first World Championship start and extended his shutout streak to 61:10, ultimately stopping 29 of 32 in the game. Making his third start in five appearances for Austria, Starkbaum stopped 17 of 20 Latvian shots.
The game was witnessed by 8516 spectators, the largest crowd of the tournament so far for a game that doesn’t involve host Finland, mostly due to the large contingent of travelling Latvian fans, which continues to grow by the game.
“It’s so great these people come; It’s unreal,” said a visibly moved Rihards Bukarts.
Austria opened the scoring off the rush just over a minute into the second period, with Raffl feeding Benjamin Nissner, who from in close managed to get his shot up at a steep angle and go top-corner over Silovs’ glove.
Latvia tied it just over four minutes later with Janis Jaks from the point perfectly setting up a one-timer from Rudolf Balcers that beat Starkbaum short side.
Latvia then had a pair of power-play chances and took the lead on the second one, just shy of the game’s midpoint. Starkbaum looked to have a clear view of Karlis Cukste’s point shot but Rihards Bukarts reached out his stick to make a one-handed tip that perfectly re-directed the puck through the Austrian goalie’s pads.
However, Austria drew back even on a power play of its own just 1:34 later. Showing incredible poise and patience with the puck at the point, Heinrich walked the line and then fired a perfectly-placed slap shot over Silovs’ blocker.
Before the period was out, however, Latvia had the lead back and Balcers had his second of the game. Kristaps Sontnieks forced a turnover in the neutral zone and the San Jose Sharks winger carried the puck into the Austrian zone, worked a give-and-go with Bukarts and Balcers finished with a one-timer.
Austria outshot Latvia 15-3 in the third period but only scored once to tie the score. That occurred when Nissner teed up a Killian Zundel one-timer. With the puck centimetres off the ice, Raffl tipped the puck downward, causing it to bounce off the ice and over Silovs’ left pad with 13:39 to play.
Sensing momentum on their side, the Austrians pressed for more. Rushing into the zone minutes later, Peter Schneider’s initial shot was stopped by Silovs. Henrich got the rebound and tried to go upstairs but the Latvian keeper leaned forward and took the shot on his blue-and-white Vancouver Canucks mask, preserving the tied score.
“I was just making the save,” said Silovs, confirming that the mask save was no accident. “I was going with my head because I knew I can’t do anything with the glove so I had to go with the head.”
Austria had a fantastic chance to win it early in overtime when a shot from the point snuck through Silovs and sat at the edge of the crease, with bodies flying all around as both teams tried desperately to get to the loose puck. Eventually Silovs covered it. At the other end of the ice a minute or so later, Ronalds Kenins ripped a shot off the goalpost.
The overtime period ended with chances at both ends in the last 10 seconds. First attempted Rihards Bukarts attempted a wraparound for Latvia that didn’t go, and then Paul Huber on a breakaway for Austria deked Silovs and hit the outside of the post with less than a second remaining.
“We played a really really good game, especially in the third period,” said Austrian forward Manuel Ganahl. “It was unbelievable, we did everything, we came back and tied the game, we had chances to win it. OT was really close, we had chances on both sides. Of course it’s always a little bit of luck at the end and it’s a really hard loss for us.”
“We need to keep going,” said Raffl, looking ahead to tomorrow’s game against Finland. “We showed that we played some really good hockey in this tournament. We played really good against big nations. Against Finland our biggest job will be staying good defensively and take advantage of our changes upfront.”
“We don’t watch what’s going on behind us, we look only forwards,” said Roberts Bukarts. “It’s in our hands. In a World Championship there are two things that are most important: get better in each as a group, and don’t get hurt. I think, I hope we are doing both of them and we can show up again even better against Great Britain. It’s a big two points for us.”