International Ice Hockey Federation

Latvia edges thriller

Latvia edges thriller

Kazakhstan loses by the odd goal in nine

Published 14.05.2014 02:25 GMT+3 | Author Andy Potts
Latvia edges thriller
MINSK, BELARUS - MAY 13: Latvia's Arturs Kulda #32 scores a second period goal against Kazakhstan's Vitali Yeremeyev #31 during preliminary round action at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
Latvia's Juris Stals scored early in the third period to settle an absorbing tussle between two of the outsiders in Group B. Kazakhstan still seeks a first win.

Latvia's Juris Stals settled a thrilling encounter with Kazakhstan, grabbing the game-winner in the 44th minute to lift his team to a 5-4 win that keeps it firmly in contention for a quarter-final spot.

Stals' decisive goal came off a Guntis Galvins pass and the forward surprised Vitali Yeremeyev with an early shot from the left-hand circle. The experienced goalie may well feel he could have got more of the puck after having a clear view of the shot, but he was unable to get behind it in time.

Having gained a slender but precious advantage, Latvia was happy to play a compact game in the closing stages, and largely succeeded in keeping the Kazakhs at bay. Edgars Maskalskis faced just four shots on goal in the final session - well down on the fusillade unleashed in the earlier two stanzas. Hopes of a big finish for the men in blue were also frustrated by a penalty on Alexei Vasilchenko with three-and-a-half minutes to play and although the final storm created a couple of anxious moments around Maskalskis' goal there was no way back.

Arturs Kulda's two goals, and Mikelis Redlihs' goal and assist played a big part in Latvia's success, while Kazakhstan's Nikolai Antropov was particularly unlucky to finish on the losing side after finishing with 1+2 on the night.

Kulda, now with the KHL's Salavat Yulayev Ufa, was full of optimism after helping his team through some anxious moments to clinch an important win. "We got sloppy and had too many turnovers in the neutral zone and they scored a couple of goals," he said. "We started to play more simple, more efficient and tried to be better on the forecheck.

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"It feels good to score and get a win. now we are in much better position in the standings. We have many experienced players who play for good teams and good league and I think we are getting better."

But while Latvia celebrates its second success in three games, Kazakhstan's eight-year wait for a victory at the top level of the World Championship continues with Ari-Pekka Selin's team looking anxiously at another relegation battle.

It didn't take long for the game to heat up, with Latvia snatching the lead after just 75 seconds. Miks Indrasis provided the finish, neatly wrong-footing Kazakhstan's defence after a slick interchange involving Jakub Redlihs and Stals.

But Kazakhstan was level before the five-minute mark after Maxim Semyonov's fantastic pass from deep in his own zone set Talgat Zhailauov away from Georgijs Pujacs and bearing down on Maskalskis in the Latvian goal. Zhailauov still had plenty to do in his duel with the goalie but clinically dispatched the puck to claim one of the goals of the competition to date.

Kazakhstan began to exert control over the game, outshooting its opponent 12-4 in the first session as a clutch of minor penalties disrupted Latvia's game. But it only turned its supremacy into a tangible advantage in the final minute when Yevgeni Rymarev took Nikolai Antropov's pass into the zone. Latvia's defence was questionable as the Torpedo Ust-Kaminogorsk winger easily reached the bottom of the circle, but the finish was emphatic as he fired across Maskalskis to score off the far post.

Kazakh defenceman Kevin Dallman reflected that his team did some good things even in defeat. "Our power play came through and got a couple of goals," he said. "If we keep doing that we will have chances to win games. They guys played well today and we almost did it, but now we have to get some rest before we play a very good team tomorrow."

The second session saw not one but two dramatic turnarounds in an absorbing encounter. First Latvia, inspired by Kulda and Mikelis Redlihs, turned a 1-2 deficit into a 4-2 advantage, only for Kazakhstan to extract maximum advantage from a 5v3 power play and tie the scores in the final minute of the session.

Kulda was first to show, making it 2-2 in the 24th minute when he turned in a Redlihs one-timer. The defenceman struck again just before the halfway mark with a slap shot from the blue line off an Indrasis pass, beating the unsighted Yeremeyev in the bottom corner.

An unusual spell of three-on-three hockey also ended badly for Kazakhstan: Mikelis Redlihs emerged from the in bin to collect a Kaspars Daugavins pass and put a backhand through the five-hole, stretching the Latvian lead to the 4-2.

But the period ended with the Kazakhs roaring back. Penalties on Herberts Vasiljevs and Zemgus Girgensons set up a two-man advantage, and while Maskalskis pulled off a terrific reflex shot to deny Dmitri Upper, he could do nothing as successive Kevin Dallman howitzers from the point richoted around the slot. Nikolai Antropov pouched the first, then got an assist as Yevgeni Blokhin tied it up five seconds before the siren to set up that fascinating final period.

Goalie Maskalskis admitted it was a test of endurance as much as hockey skills out there. "We're pretty evenly-matched opponents and in a game like that it's not always skill that decides it - sometimes its a battle of wills, sometimes it's even a mistake that settles it," he said. "Both teams were a bit nervous because we knew that whoever lost was in trouble, so I'm happy with the result even if the performance wasn't always great."


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