Latvia upset Switzerland, 3-1, to reach the quarterfinals of the men's hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics. It will play gold-medal favorite Canada on Wednesday for a spot in the final four.
The game was a rematch of a Group C contest that saw Switzerland score the only goal with eight seconds left in the third period. Latvia ensured that wouldn't happen again with two goals in the opening 20 minutes, and it held on to advance.
Let's check out how the game played out along with the complete list of quarterfinal games scheduled for Wednesday in Sochi. It's followed by a recap of the Latvian triumph.
Result and Quarterfinal Games
|Team||1st Period||2nd Period||3rd Period||Total|
|Game||Time ET||Time GMT||Time MSK|
|Sweden vs. Slovenia||3 a.m.||8 a.m.||12 p.m.|
|Finland vs. Russia||7:30 a.m.||12:30 p.m.||4:30 p.m.|
|Canada vs. Latvia||12 p.m.||5 p.m.||9 p.m.|
|United States vs. Czech Republic||12 p.m.||5 p.m.||9 p.m.|
Switzerland played three 1-0 games during the group stage, including a win over Latvia. The defensive ability it illustrated during those contests made the Swiss group a worrisome potential foe for the elite teams because the margin for error is extremely thin in those type of low-scoring games.
That's why it was so surprising to see Latvia strike first to open the qualification playoff-round matchup. Just over eight minutes into the opening period, Oskars Bartulis took a shot from the top of the circle and a screen in front prevented Jonas Hiller from seeing the puck until it was already in the net.
It was the first goal allowed in the tournament by Hiller, who didn't play in the team's 1-0 loss to Sweden in the group stage. Switzerland had controlled the pace of play up until that point, which then served as an instant confidence boost for Latvia.
After the first meeting between the sides, Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports passed along comments from Latvia head coach Ted Nolan. He liked the way his team played but lamented the fact a couple late mistakes led to the winning goal with less than 10 seconds left:
Unfortunately, it's a game of mistakes. And we made a couple at the end of the game. When you give a team like Switzerland those opportunities, that's what's going to cost you.
By scoring first, the Latvians gave themselves a little more margin for error.
They added to it with another tally less than three minutes later on the power play. With Morris Trachsler in the box, Mikelis Redlihs found Lauris Darzins with a perfect saucer pass and the winger made no mistake as he buried the shot over the shoulder of Hiller.
The NHL noted it was the fourth of the team's seven Olympic goals to come with the man advantage:
Make that 2-0 for Latvia as Lauris Darzins scores on the power play. Latvia has scored 4 PPGs during this #Olympics.— NHL (@NHL) February 18, 2014
It was a sluggish first half of the second period for both sides. Latvia seemed content to play safe with the two-goal edge. Switzerland was the better team, but still played pretty conservative at the back with fear another goal against would end its comeback hopes.
The Swiss started to pick up their level of play in the second half of the period, and it paid off. Martin Pluss one-timed a pass from Reto Suri past Edgars Masalskis, who got a piece of the shot but not enough to keep it out.
Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News noted the Latvians couldn't get a change and it led to the Switzerland goal to cut the lead to one:
There it is. Swiss cut it to 2-1 on shot from the slot by Martin Pluss on feed from Reto Suri. Girgensons line was caught out there too long— Jerry Sullivan (@TBNSully) February 18, 2014
Latvia put the clamps down defensively in the third period. Switzerland created a couple chances, but could never develop any consistent offensive pressure. And when they did get an opportunity to level the score, Masalskis was up to the task.
Darzins proceeded to put the game on ice with an empty-net goal late in the third period. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN predicted the insurance marker sent the fans back home into a frenzy:
Some of the most passionate fans at world championships are from Latvia. They'll be rocking in Riga tonight.— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) February 18, 2014
What's your quarterfinal prediction?
Looking ahead, Latvia will obviously head into its matchup with Canada as a massive underdog. The Canadians won the gold medal four years ago and finished atop Group B. Today's victory was the first of the tournament for Latvia.
The talent gap is even bigger than that results gap. Canada's roster features some of the world's best players, including the NHL's leading scorer Sidney Crosby. Latvia only has one NHL player, Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres.
It would take a perfect performance from Latvia to have a chance, and even that might not be enough.
Updated Medal Count