Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Canada won the game, Gudlevskis won the hearts!

When Shea Weber finally delivered Canadians from their seventh circle of hockey hell on Wednesday, the gasp of relief no doubt was hear roaring across the polar ice caps through the mountain ranges and over the Bolshoy ice rink.

Canada, with Weber's goal (all be it with a few extra minutes of short breathing exercises to come before the game's end) finally solved the Gudlevskis conundrum.

A 57 shot exhibition of Canadian might, that for all but two goals was turned aside by Kristers Gudlevskis, in one of the most amazing of goal tending performances seen in a long time.

The Latvians, played like a team with nothing to lose, not content with just being the team happy to be there, they played Canada hard. With flying body checks, shot blocks, clogging zones and mucking the puck.  And yet even with all of that, the Canadians still exercised most of the control of the game, except where it counts the most, on the scoreboard for close to 52 minutes.

Patrick Sharpe put the first puck behind the Latvian goaltender at 13 minutes of the first period, a marker that many no doubt believed was about to herald the long anticipated avalanche of goals that would move Canada comfortably on to the Semi-Finals.

A reward for the near misses, goal post deflections and frustrations of the previous twelve minutes.

As things turned out, it would be a short lived bit of confidence.

The Latvians clearly astute students of coach Ted Nolan's ways, refused to buckle, taking advantage of a Canadian line change to sneak into the Canadian zone. Lauris Darzins bringing the game back to a 1-1 tie at fifteen minutes of the first, a score that would hold through the remainder of the first and all of the second.

Making for a situation that left Canadian Goaltender Carey Price required to remain in focus, despite a lack of action in his end of the rink. Yet when called upon, Price held up his end of the Canadian pact, keeping the Latvians from scoring a second goal, a job for which Canadian cardiologists will no doubt nominate him for a heart care prevention award.

The real health hazard however could be found in the Latvian end of the rink, where exhaustion was a very real possibility.

Wave after wave of Canadian line combinations, crossing the Latvian blue line, only to be stymied by Gudlevskis, a Tampa Bay prospect who for the moment spends his North American time with the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL.

His performance became one of the twin story lines of the day in Sochi, a remarkable performance from a relative unkonwn player.   The other story line, the loss of the home side Russian team, a squad that by the end of the day looked as shell shocked as Gudleskis must have felt.  Except at the end of his day the Latvian would be celebrated, the hosts for these Olympics more the subject of puzzlement than anything else.

Gudlevskis's performance once again left Canadian fans shaking their heads in frustration at the state of marksmanship from Canada's forwards. And while the lack of scoring for Canada is of some concern for the fans back home, there's really not much more that Mike Babcock's team could have done. They had chance after chance, running into the worst possible scenario a coach ever has to face, a hot goaltender, who builds his confidence with each wave turned away.

The nature of the Olympic tournament doesn't lend itself to the concept of the stronger team will win, unlike the seven game marathons of the NHL, at the latter stages of the Olympic games it's win or go home.

Canada survived their Latvian scare to move on to a Friday date with the USA, a game that has all the makings of another high tempo, emotional and hard hitting gathering of the North American relations.

Beyond the troubles with finishing touches around the nets, the Canadians face off against an American team that has been building confidence and momentum through the tournament. Add into the mix, an injury to John Tavares, who is now lost to Canada for the remainder of the tournament and longer for his home club the New York Islanders.

Those are the things that Mike Babcock will have to address, though we imagine motivation for the USA game won't be among his concerns. Anticipation is already high that the Friday puck drop will be one of the big moments for these Sochi games, with memories of Vancouver of four years ago setting the stage for what could be another Olympic classic.

For the Latvians, their classic has been played and recorded for the history books, they will return home  without an Olympic medal on this occasion, but what they lack in gold, silver or bronze they have more than made up in with respect.

It was a gutsy performance, from a team that showed little fear. And from a goal tender that had the game of his life and with it the accolades that were much deserved.

The logic of hockey suggests that they never should have been in the game, the reality of it is, that they were every part of it, now part of Olympic lore for the next four years.

They gave Canada another reminder that each and every game provides for a new threat, with history there for the grasping.

On Thursday, for 52 minutes, the Latvians appeared but one goal away from creating a little of their own.

February 19-- Latvian net minder Gudlevskis's remarkable Cinderalla story
February 19-- Maybe the best goaltending performance in Olympic history
February 19-- Latvian goalie makes 55 saves in loss to Canada
February 19-- 10 things to know about Latvian Goalie Kristers Gudlevskis
February 19-- Latvian Goalie Gudlevskis leaves it all on the ice

February 19-- Canada vs. Latvia Analysis from Bruce Garrioch
February 19-- Canada-U. S. Men's semifinal likely to be highlight of Olympic Games
February 19-- Canada's struggling offence in tough against potent U. S. in Olympic men's hockey semi-final
February 19-- Canada obliterates Latvia on scoring chances, if not on scoreboard
February 19-- Latvian goalie makes 55 saves in loss to Canada
February 19-- Price wasn't busy against Latvia, but kept Canada in game
February 19-- Canada struggles against Latvia
February 19-- Tavares to miss rest of Olympics, may have ligament damage
February 19-- Canada survives Latvian Scare to advance to semi-final
February 19-- John Tavares injures knee, out for rest of Olympics
February 19-- Tournament over for Tavares
February 19-- Canada's escape against Latvia shows anything can happen at the Olympics
February 19-- Canada avoids upset against Latvia, but find scoring in Sochi a big problem
February 19-- Hockey win over Latvia more relief than victory
February 19-- Canada survives Latvian scare, advances to men's hockey semifinals
February 19-- Canada's John Tavares out for the tournament after taking a hit in Latvia game

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