First favourite to fall

Latvia takes historic win, downs Sweden in a shootout, 3-2

PostFinance Arena Berne  Switzerland

The Latvians celebrate following their shootout win over Sweden. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images

BERNE – In the eleven previous matchups between the two nations, Latvia's best result was a tie. Not anymore.

"Latvia played a really good hockey game. We couldn’t reach the level we wanted to. We lost a game but at the same time we just have to focus on our next game against the USA," Swedish coach Bengt-Åke Gustafsson said.

Naturally, for Latvia, the big was an important one.

"I’m just happy, I really wanted to win this game," Latvian coach Olegs Znaroks said.

"Every victory means happiness,” he added.

Discipline was the key word in the Group C game between Sweden and Latvia. Both teams entered the game with a plan, stuck to it.

"We knew we’d have to defend, and work as a team. Sweden is a great team so we wanted to keep the pressure on and focus on chances on our powerplay," defenceman Krisjanis Redlihs said.

Sweden got off to a good start, taking control of the game early on. Latvia, on the other hand, focused on playing solid defence, and playing the puck quickly out of its own zone, then following it up with an attack if possible. Aleksandrs Nizivijs's two-minute penalty for hooking gave Sweden the momentum even if Tre Kronor couldn’t capitalize on the powerplay.

At 15:26, Linus Omark followed his linemate Johan Harju’s drive to the net. Harju took a shot which Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis blocked but the rebound bounced straight to Omark, who had an easy job tipping the puck into an empty net.

The second period went according to the same script until Krisjanis Redlihs sent a blistering slapshot from the blueline during Omark’s high sticking penalty and beat Sweden’s goaltender Stefan Liv high on the glove side, it turned into a whole other story.

Latvia created more scoring chances, and even if Sweden outshot Latvia 24-16 in the first two periods, Liv had to make a series of excellent saves during the second half of the period.

With 45 seconds remaining in the second period, Krisjanis’s little brother Mikelis Redlihs shook off a Swedish defenceman behind the Swedish net and sent a backhand pass across the crease. Lauris Darzins out Swedish fans into a state of shock when he tipped the puck in.

In a mirror image of the end of the second period, Sweden tied the games 44 seconds into the third on powerplay. Magnus Johansson took a pass from Loui Eriksson, and onetimed a slapshot behind Masalskis.

At 51:04, there was a long stoppage of play after Sweden's Tobias Enström injured his face after he got slammed into the boards in the corner by Martins Karsums. He left the game, leaving Sweden with just four defencemen since Kenny Jonsson quit the game after the first period, due to a hip injury.

When the puck was dropped again, Sweden looked determined to get the winning goal, forcing Latvia to ice the puck several times.

The Latvian defence held tight, and the game was tied after 60 minutes of play.

After a goalless overtime, the game was decided on a penalty shootout.

Latvian coach Olegs Znaroks surprised even his own team by switching goalies, sending 40-year-old Sergejs Naumovs in for the shootout.

"I was surprised when the coach changed the goalies, but it worked out," Krisjanis Redlihs said, grinning.

It worked. Naumovs made two key saves. First, he stopped Patrik Berglund, then Johansson, giving Nizivijs, Latvia's fourth shooter, a chance to give Latvia the edge.

He fooled Liv in the Swedish goal and sealed Latvia's first ever win over Sweden. In the eleven previous matches (nine in World Championships, one at the Olympics, and one exhibition game) Sweden's record was 10W-1T.

May the Latvian party begin.





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