Latvians Nearly Derail a North American Semi-Final
First and foremost, Team Canada did what it had to do.
After pummelling Latvia's net an incredible 56 times -- with only Patrick Sharp's first-period strike making it through -- the Canadian offense still never panicked, never faltered, and stuck with its plan to and through the 13:06 mark of the third period, when defenseman Shea Weber wired a low heater from the left point past surprise starter Kristers Gudlevskis on a power play to finally secure a semi-final berth opposite the United States.
The 21-year-old Latvian goalie got the call because coach Ted Nolan felt last night's netminding hero in the 3-1 upset of Switzerland, Edgars Masalskis, was still exhausted. Gudlevskis is in the Tampa Bay Lightning system, which bodes well for GM Steve Yzerman's roster plans in the near future. However, tonight, Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman was content to see Gudlevskis put on a spectacular performance -- 55 saves; a .965 clip -- and still have his handpicked national squad advance.
In the end, Gudlevskis was so spent, he could hardly stand. He had the game of his life, and almost shocked the life out of the Canadians' rabid fans.
Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan has almost put himself up for sainthood in this tiny Baltic state for the manner in which he's whipped his roster into a competitive unit capable of hanging with the top hockey powers. Latvia plays as physical a game as both Canada and the USA, and its players were conditioned sufficiently to keep at it, even though this was their third game in four nights. Their approach took more than its usual toll; the Islanders' John Tavares absorbed a hard check against the boards, injuring his left knee. It will sideline him for the rest of the Olympics and possibly longer. Do know Isles' GM Garth Snow and head coach Jack Capuano are cringing.
Meanwhile, Team USA took care of business against the Czechs in workmanlike fashion, as attested by the 5-2 final score.
The Americans are firing on all cylinders in Sochi, quickly adapting to the big ice with speed and aplomb. Of course, virtually all North American players in the tournament have European tourney experience on the wider sheet. The challenge is to adjust team concepts and frames of reference to account for the extra 15 feet. As well, with the blue line four feet closer to the goal, angle perspectives test reflexes, too. To date, the USA is actually using these factors to its advantage, as is evidenced by its impressive 20:6 goal ratio.
Here is the semi-final schedule for Fri 21 Feb:
|1 v 4||Sweden v Finland||7.00am||NBCSN|
|2 v 3||United States v Canada||12.00pm||NBCSN|