Weber's late goal helps Canada survive
SOCHI -- Hockey coaches often talk about character-building losses. Canada coach Mike Babcock is being overloaded with character-building wins at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Canada got a ton of shots, a ton of scoring chances and a ton of offensive zone time without scoring a ton of goals Wednesday, squeaking past Latvia 2-1 in the quarterfinals to set up a date with the rival United States in the semifinals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
It's been the story of Canada's tournament, and Babcock has been forced to look for positives in wins that feel a lot like losses throughout.
"Did I want to win 7-1? Absolutely," Babcock said after surviving yet another low-scoring game. "Do I think it was better for our team we won the way we did? For sure."
Shea Weber scored a power-play goal on Canada's 54th shot of the game to break a 1-1 tie at 13:06 of the third period.
Latvia had 13 shots at the time.
Patrick Sharp scored Canada's first goal of the game, the sixth by a Canadian forward in four games against Norway, Austria, Finland and now Latvia.
Half those goals by forwards were scored by Jeff Carter in a span of just under 12 minutes during the second period against Austria.
Now Canada will face the Americans, who have had no problem scoring and easily handled the Czech Republic 5-2 across the street at Shayba Arena.
Scoring chances are great, but they don't count on the scoreboard.
"I thought that the adversity that we faced [Wednesday] was a real positive thing for us, just like the game [a 2-1 overtime win] against Finland," Babcock said. "So to me that's a positive thing. We plan on getting better each and every day. ... We play a U.S. team that seems to score real easy. We haven't scored real easy. But we'll be ready to play."
The game was a showcase for Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis, who not only turned aside 55 Canadian shots but had to remain alert with the puck in Latvia's zone for multiple shifts at a time.
Gudlevskis, 21, is a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, and he nearly knocked his boss' team out of the Olympics.
When asked what he would say the next time he saw Lightning general manager and Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman, Gudlevskis simply grinned.
"You're lucky," he said.
At the other end of the ice, Canadian goalie Carey Price was spending a lot of time standing around watching Gudlevskis do his thing nearly 200 feet away. Price made 15 saves in a game in which it was difficult for him to keep his focus. But he was impressed with what he saw in the young Latvian goalie.
"He did very well tonight. He held their team in there," he said. "That was one of the best performances I've ever seen."
Gudlevskis was a bit of a surprise starter after Edgars Masalskis made 32 saves to knock out Switzerland a day earlier and had a .946 save percentage in three games.
"It's tough to play back-to-back, especially for goaltenders. And our goaltenders get a lot of work," Latvia and Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan said with a straight face. "Kristers was ready to go and he's a little more used to the North American shots.
"We just took a guess and it worked out pretty well for us."
Canada had opened the scoring at 13:37 of the first on Patrick Sharp's first of the tournament, but Latvia answered right back with a beautiful breakaway goal by Lauris Darzins at 15:41.
From that point onward the Canadian assault on the Latvian net began, but Gudlevskis would not be beaten.
"We talked about it, we just can't get frustrated," Weber said of the disparity between the number of chances and goals. "That's what these teams want you to do the way they lock up the middle of the ice, [have] good goaltending, clear out second chances.
"They want you to get frustrated and change your game."
Though the victory may have been a relief for Canada, there was a price to pay.
Canada center John Tavares left the game in the second period with an injury after he took a hard hit from Latvia defenseman Arturs Kulda and struggled to get back to the bench before eventually leaving for the dressing room.
Babcock announced after the game that Tavares, the New York Islanders captain and NHL's third-leading scorer with 66 points in 59 games, will miss the remainder of the tournament.
As Canada has done in each of its games here, it allowed a few quality chances in the first few shifts. But it was Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz who had the best ones before the game was five minutes old. Kunitz sprung Crosby for a breakaway that was stopped by Gudlevskis and then Crosby set up Kunitz with a wide open net, but he hit the crossbar.
At the time, neither play seemed that important. But as the game moved into the third period tied even though Canada was ahead in shots 35-11 there was a sense the two missed chances early on could become very significant.
"All you've got to do is watch the highlights for six seconds; we had good looks [from] good players," Babcock said. "Crosby has a breakaway right away, Kunitz hits the crossbar right away. If he scores, it's different. But for us that part doesn't matter. What matters is we had an opportunity to advance; we have an opportunity to play."
Sharp opened the scoring on a nice play by Rick Nash behind the net, who set him up for a one-timer into a largely empty net.
But the Latvians struck back led by their captain Sandis Ozolinsh, who found Darzins alone behind the Canadian defense pair of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Darzins, a former teammate of Weber's with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League, beat Price with a move worthy of a star NHL player.
Darzins faked a shot, moved to his backhand and lifted the puck right under the crossbar to score his fourth goal of the tournament.
Gudlevskis kept his team in it, but it looked as if Canada finally got one past him at 8:27 of the third period.
Jonathan Toews grabbed a rebound of a Drew Doughty shot and shoveled it toward the crease. It looked as though the puck squeaked through and was heading over the goal line when Latvia defenseman Kristaps Sotnieks swiped it away with his glove.
The play was called no goal on the ice, and it withstood a video review to keep the game tied 1-1.
Just under five minutes later, Weber scored his third of the tournament on a slapshot.
It gave Canada a 2-1 lead.
And a pulse.
Right now, that's all Babcock and Canada care about.
"The Olympic Games isn't supposed to be easy, they don't just give the medals out," Babcock said. "You earn the medals. Now we'd like to put ourselves in a situation to compete for one and we have another day to prepare [Thursday]."
LAT 1 0 0 - 1
CAN 1 0 1 - 2
1. CAN, Sharp (Nash) 13:37
2. LAT, Darzins (Kulda, Sprukts) 15:41
Penalties - Sharp CAN (tripping) 6:18, Keith CAN (broken stick) 16:02
Penalties - Girgensons LAT (slashing) 5:37, St. Louis CAN (slashing) 10:21, Ozolinsh LAT (high sticking) 19:33
3. CAN, Weber - PPG (Doughty, Toews) 13:06
Penalties - Pujacs LAT (slashing) 11:09
SHOTS ON GOAL
LAT 6 5 5 - 16
CAN 16 19 22 - 57
Goaltenders (saves-shots against) - LAT: Gudlevskis (L, 55-57); CAN: Price (W, 15-16)
Power plays (goals-chances) - LAT: 0-3; CAN: 1-3