I originally had in mind to watch the USA vs. Czech Republic game this afternoon, thinking it’d be somewhat competitive, while Canada would walk all over Latvia.
Oh boy was I wrong.
The USA beat the Czechs 5-1 to secure a spot in the medal round, which wasn’t a huge surprise. The Canada vs. Latvia game, meanwhile, made it’s case for game of the Olympics.
Most of the game was played in the Latvian end of the ice, with Patrick Sharp potting the first goal of the game at the 13:37 mark of the first period. At this point, I thought still that it’d be a blowout, and it wasn’t worth tuning in.
But the USA game took a small break in the play to clear off the ice, and I switched channels, just in time to catch something crazy. A set play off a faceoff saw Arturs Kulda spring loose Lauris Darzins for a breakaway and a goal on Carey Price to tie the game. The fans draped in maroon were jumping for joy. I was in disbelief.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis was playing his heart out, stopping 15 of 16 in the first, and then all 19 shots in the second, to keep Latvia in the game. At the second intermission, I decided that this was the game to watch, because something special might happen.
At this point, it looked like the Canadians had a power play for the whole game. But every scoring opportunity the Latvians had, at any rush down the ice, you could hear the Latvian supporters cheering vigorously. The game was exciting.
There were two moments in that third period had me believing that this upset was possible.
First, a slap shot was fired from the point that felled Latvian defenseman Oskars Bartulis, who was clogging the middle. Bartulis was down on the ice for a few seconds, then got up, but was skating on one leg for the remainder of the shift. That moment was reminiscent of Gregory Campbell fracturing his leg blocking a shot in the Stanley Cup playoffs last year.
Second, a scramble in the net occurred after Jonathan Toews of Canada fired a shot that the Canadian team was convinced was in the net. The referee on scene called the play dead and went to the replay booth to confirm the call. The replay showed how remarkably close the Canadians were to the lead. The puck dribbled underneath Gudlevskis, and partially crossed the line when defenseman Kristaps Sotnieks gloved the puck and dragged it under Gudlevskis for a whistle, and to take away the goal.
The Latvians got a couple of chances to take the lead, until Georgijs Pujacs commited a penalty on which Shea Weber scored, giving the Canadians a 2-1 lead. At this point, at stoppages in the play, a trainer was coming off the bench to help Gudlevskis deal with fatigue. Gudlevskis finished the game with a whopping 55 saves on 57 shots. It wasn’t enough.
When Canada scored, I knew in the back of my head that it would put them over the top and win them the game. But I refused to believe it.
The game ended 2-1 Canada. Despite the loss, the Latvians got a standing ovation. They outhit the Canadians, and Gudlevskis so badly outplayed Carey Price, that they really deserved the win, despite getting outshot 57-16. Not to say that Canada played poorly, they played their game to near perfection. They just ran into a goalie who had the game of his life.
It would have been an upset for the ages, though. Despite it not happening, the Latvians deserved it.
The game didn’t have the camaraderie of a USA/Canada game, that we will get on Friday morning. The game didn’t have marquee names on both sides of the ice. The most notable players on the Latvian side are Zemgus Girgensons and former NHLer Sandis Ozolins. But it certainly had the excitement of one of those games.
It will be tough to unseat this game for game of the Olympics.