Final Score: Canada 2, Latvia 1
First Period Recap: In a preview of the surprisingly close game to come, Martins Karsums had a point blank shot on Carey Price on the first shift of the game and as Karsums left the ice he put a nice little shoulder into Chris Kunitz along the benches. It took almost three minutes for Canada to get an opportunity as good, when the line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Jamie Benn combined in close to the Latvian crease but goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis was equal to the task.
A minute later Sidney Crosby had a breakaway from the blueline but Gudlevskis got a piece of it with the glove hand. He recovered the puck himself and played a little tic tac toe game with Patrice Bergeron and Kunitz, the latter of whom hit the crossbar with a seemingly wide open net.
Latvian leading scorer Lauris Darzins tried to dangle through Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, but lost the handle before he could get it on net. Immediately at the other end Perry crashed the net after a dump in on net but couldn't quite control the rebound to put it in past the Latvian goalie as he was knocked off his feet by Oskars Bartulis.
The first penalty of the game was called against Patrick Sharp for tripping Koba Jass behind the Latvian net. Canada killed the penalty easily with the best chance being Patrick Marleau's shorthanded shot off through the legs of former Mighty Duck Sandis Ozolins.
Sharp opened the scoring for Canada at 13:37 of the first. After Rick Nash had two chances right in front of the net where he couldn't get a shot off, he gathered the puck behind the net and found Sharp for a one timer below the faceoff dot to the left of Gudlevskis who was flailing on the other side of the net and partially screened by John Tavares.
After the goal the Canadians had several good chances, but a couple of miscues. First Price turned the puck over behind the net to Ronalds Kennis who got it to Martins Cipullis in front, but Price just barely got back in the net in time. Then off of a neutral zone faceoff Bartulis sprung Darzins, who had come off the bench behind the Canadian defense and scored backhand shelf to tie the game at one with four and a half minutes left in the period. Sneaky little trick play there by Latvian/Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan.
Right after the goal Keith was called for playing with a broken stick. It was another effortless kill for the defending gold medalists. Despite leading the shots 16-6 the period ended in a 1-1 tie.
Second Period Recap: The second period picked up pretty much where the first left off. Perry had a couple of chances right off the bat. First with his patented skate around the back of the net and pull it to the forehand move then a quick shot from his knees that went wide. And even though the Canadians were dominating possession, Latvia was able to get a couple of shots off the counter attack.
Almost five minutes in Perry again made a nifty little spin-o-rama move to get to the front of the net, but couldn't get it on net. Shortly after that chance Tavares took a hit from Bartulis against the boards and left the game in some distress, but under his own power, but did not return and will miss the rest of the tournament. Right after the Tavares injury, Miks Indrasis and Zigmus Girgensons went in on a 2-on-1 that resulted in Indrasis missing the net wide and limping out of the game after crashing into the end boards (he returned later in the period) as well as a slashing penalty against Girgensons.
Latvia killed the penalty, but just barely. Canada possessed the puck almost the entire two minutes and had five shots on goal, including a glorious chance when Price caught Latvia on a change with a stretch pass to Ryan Getzlaf who got it to Jeff Carter in front, but it was saved by Gudlevskis. Canada carried that momentum over after the kill with a number of opportunities, but couldn't find a way to beat Gudlevskis.
Just before the midway point of the game Martin St. Louis was called for slashing Girgensons as he nearly got to a puck bouncing off of the active end boards. Again it was no problem for Canada to kill the penalty as the Latvians seemingly tried to skate into the slot whenever they had the puck, but were immediately converged upon.
More domination from Canada, but Latvia had two good chances in the last five minutes of the period, one thanks to a broken stick by Weber, and one through a bunch of traffic that Price got his blocker on.
With two minutes left, Kunitz nearly got in alone on Gudlevskis but Janis Sprukts made a fabulous backchecking play to knock the puck off of his stick at the last second. Ozolins went off for high sticking with 30 seconds left in the period, but it ended as it started tied at one.
Shots for the period were 19-5 for Canada, bringing the game totals to 35-11 after 40 minutes.
Third Period Recap: Canada couldn't score on the remaining Ozolins penalty time, even with Getzlaf getting the puck across the crease to Crosby with a wide open net, but Sid wasn't able to get his stick on it. As the penalty expired the crowd broke out in a boisterous LAT-VI-A chant.
Canada had a flurry of chances, again with the Getzlaf, Perry, Benn line on the ice, but this time it was partially due to the fact that Bartulis was hobbled by blocking Weber point shot. Bartulis stayed on in a nearly Gregory Campbell-esque show of toughness. He was treated on the bench and hardly missed a shift. HOCKEY PLAYERS!
Tasting the upset, the crowd went wild every time Latvia made their way into the Canadian zone, but went unsatisfied.
Canada thought they had scored when Drew Doughty took a point shot and Jonathan Toews got the rebound behind Gudlevskis. The Latvian goalie reached back but couldn't stop the puck, it trickled halfway over the line before Kristaps Sotnieks tapped it back underneath his goaltender with his glove. It probably should have been a penalty shot for covering the puck in the crease, but that play is not reviewable, all they could do was call no goal.
That gave Latvia a little spark as, on the next shift Darzins nearly scored off of a shot from the slot but Price made the save.
At the 11:09 mark Georgijs Pujacs was called for slashing. Naturally the Canadian PP had several chances and with three seconds remaining on the penalty Shea Weber broke the tie with a one timer from the point. Weber and Doughty played catch across the blueline a couple of times before Weber just hammered it and Gudlevskis couldn't get to the post in time.
The rest of the way, Canada only had three shots on goal, but one was, again Corey Perry in front of the net with all kinds of time, but he was in too close to lift it over Gudlevskis' pad. That made the third period shots 22-5, for a game total of 57-16. So despite what the scoreboard says, there wasn't exactly a threat for Canada to be eliminated, but MUCH closer than it should have been.
Good: This game was just as dominant from Canada as you would have thought going in, they just could only battle two pucks over the line. That's good news for Canada, because they're just a bounce or two away from breaking through, it's not even a matter of being too cute, they were plenty direct, just couldn't quite break through for the expected blowout; For Latvia because they hung in there with the best team in the world; and for Team USA because they have a lot more firepower than Latvia and if they can put together a similar effort, have a great chance of advancing to the Gold Medal game.
Bad: Canadian forwards have only scored six of the team's 13 goals so far in the tournament. On the bright side, they've still won all of their games.
Ugly: Tavares' injury won't be devastating for the Canadians, or the Islanders who have no real shot at a playoff spot, but this is why we may not see NHLers in the Olympics for a while after this week.
3rd Star: Shea Weber - By default has to be a star since he happened to be the Canadian that inevitably broke through for the game winner.
2nd Star: Corey Perry - Somewhat similarly to Malkin against the US, Perry seemed to have the puck on his stick (or at least whacking away at it) in front of the Latvian net on every single shift he played, but couldn't get anything to go. Homer pick? Maybe, but it seemed like Mike Babcock was consistently going back to that line of Perry, Getzlaf and Benn and they continued to create offensive chances.
1st Star: Kristers Gudlevskis - survived an absolute onslaught of shots from the Canadians, saving 55 of 57, and kept this game much closer than it ever should have been, but didn't get the offensive support needed for the Super-Upset.
Next Game: A rematch of the 2010 Gold Medal Game, Friday, February 21 versus the USA at 9am PT