William Nylander scored the lone goal on a power play late in the second period. It was the second goal and fourth point in just the second game of the tournament for the Toronto Maple Leafs right winger.
“I think we had a solid defensive game today, as we have all tournament,” said Swedish defenceman Adam Larsson. “They are a tough team, they’ve got a lot of skill, and it was a hard game. It was good to get one of these games before the playoffs.”
“We played well today,” Latvian defenceman Kristaps Zile figured. “We had our chances but we couldn’t score, they scored one power-play goal and that’s about it. It’s a shame. This could have gone the other way. We had great scoring chances at the end as well but it’s hockey and it is what it is.”
Sweden outshot Latvia 35-21. In his second start for Sweden, Linus Ullmark recorded his first career World Championship shutout. As he was whenever he played for in the tournament, Arturs Silovs was strong in the Latvian goal. The 21-year-old Vancouver Canucks prospect was making his second start, in addition to two appearances in relief of Elvis Merzlikins.
As a result, the Swedes finish with 18 points. They know they will finish at least second in Group B and remain in Tampere for the duration of the tournament. They will finish first in the group if Finland fails to beat Czechia in regulation time.
“We’ve been having a good run here and today was a huge win for us,” said Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin. “We just want to build on this and we’re looking forward to the playoffs.”
As for the Latvians, they still had a path to the quarter-finals heading into the game but their destiny wasn’t entirely within their own hands. Even had they beaten Latvia in regulation time, they would have needed the USA to lose to Norway in regulation time later on today. As it is, they finish fifth in the group with eight points.
“Throughout the tournament, we grew as a team,” said Latvian captain Rodrigo Abols. “What we lacked in skills, we made up for with hard work and dedication. We try to play with our hearts and I think we showed that in the tournament. We were down 2-0 to Great Britain and had a hard game against Austria, but that’s where we showed our character.”
For most of this game, Latvia employed a defensive strategy, hoping to find offensive chances off the counter-attack. While Silovs held the fort at one end, they did get the occasional chance – the best one perhaps coming midway through the first period when Abols was set up for a one-timer in the slot but was denied point-blank by Ullmark.
“I think we can be happy with the performance but disappointed with the result,” said Abols. “We had our chances but we didn’t score and against a team like Sweden, you have to use every chance you can get.”
Latvia got one power-play opportunity in the first period and other in the second, but didn’t come up with much.
“I thought we had a good start to the game,” said Swedish captain Joakim Nordstrom. “We were talking before, really emphasizing that our start had to be good and I thought we came out with a bang. We didn’t capitalize but I thought we were playing with good energy, we were physical and we were spending a lot of time with the puck in their end.”
Sweden got its first power-play chance when Arturs Kulda was sent off for tripping, and the Swedes scored the game’s lone goal with 5:06 remaining in the second period. Lucas Wallmark passed across to Nylander, and with Rasmus Asplund providing a screen in front, Nylander walked in and ripped a wrist shot to the far side that Silovs didn’t see until it was too late.
In the first minute of the third period, Nylander nearly scored another power-play goal, stripping the puck from Martins Dzierkals and walking in on Silovs. This time, however, the Latvian goalie had a clear view and got a blocker on it.
Needing two goals in the third period, Latvia came out of its defensive shell and pressed hard, but the Swedish defence was solid, allowing little in the way of quality scoring chances. With around seven minutes to play, Rihards Bukarts sent a seemingly harmless shot from the high slot that squirted out of Ullmark’s glove and resulted in a goalmouth scramble, but the puck stayed out.
Still needing two goals in the last two minutes, Silovs was lifted for a sixth attacker. Nordstrom missed a bid for the empty net in the dying seconds, but it didn’t matter. The puck was kept deep in the Latvian zone as the game, and Latvia’s tournament, ended.
As the Latvian players left the ice, they gave one last salute to the appreciative fans to supported them in droves all tournament.
“The atmosphere was great,” said Zile. “Last year (in Riga) we only had fans at one game but this year a lot of Latvians came here and it’s pretty great to play with these fans. Their support was just amazing.”
“Our main goal after the group stage was to qualify for the quarter-finals and to put ourselves in a good position,” said Nordstrom. “It’s crunch time now. Our expectations on ourselves are always to fight for medals. Last year didn’t pan out the way we wanted to but here we are now and we’ve put ourselves in a good spot but there’s a lot of work left to be done.”