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Latvia powers past Slovakia

Photo: Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images.
For the first time since being in the top division of the World Championships, Latvia has won its first two games.

Three power play goals lead Latvia to a 3-1 win over Slovakia. Latvia used its power play to stake out a 2-0 lead after two periods that would hold. Elvis Merzlikins was once again strong in goal making 25 saves.
 

Using the same formula that was successful last game, Latvia played tight defence and received capable goaltending to ride the wave to victory.
 

Since joining the top group in World Championship play in 1997 Latvia has never won its first two games in a tournament until now.
 

Latvia and Slovakia have met twice at the World Championships. Latvia defeated them both times in 1997 and 2013. 
 

The Latvians came out the gate with some early pressure in the Slovakia zone but were unable to get many shots on goal. Still, it was clear that they were playing with some confidence. Latvia was also supported by a strong and vocal fan base at LANXESS Arena.
 

Slovak forward Tomas Matousek was called for a five minute major penalty and game misconduct for boarding at 6:04 of the first period. Then at 7:53 Juraj Mikus was whistled off for high sticking to give Latvia a two man advantage for 1:10.
 

Initially, their power play featured very few shots on goal and those were mostly from the perimeter. But at 9:36 Janis Sprukts appeared to score with :41 remaining in the Matousek penalty. Sprukts stick was partially obstructed as he was in stride to take a shot, but he got just enough that the puck fluttered in the air over goaltender Jan Laco and into the net. 
 

The play was reviewed to check for a high stick but there was none and Sprukts goal stood. 
 

Slovakia created some chances, including a two-on-one with Jakub Suja passing to David Skokan for a shot that was saved. Then as a penalty against Guntis Galvins had expired, Andrej Kudrna took a shot that was saved by Merzlikins but loose. Kudrna poked at the puck sending it into the net. However, the referee waived it off ruling that the whistle had blown. 
 

In the second period Libor Hudacek was called for slashing Oskars Cibulskis to give Latvia its second power play of the game.
 

Latvia made them pay with another power play goal. Rihards Bukarts sent a pinpoint pass to Zemgus Girgensons in the slot for a shot. For Bukarts it was his second assist of the game and Girgensons first goal of the tournament.
 

In the third, Kudrna took control of the puck when a Latvian defenseman could not quite get ahold of it. Kudrna started a possible two-on-one and opted to take a shot that hit the crossbar.
 

Slovakia finally broke through at 9:09 when Michel Miklik scored to cut the lead to 2-1. The goal ended Merzlikin’s shutout streak at 119:09. Miklik’s goal came in the waning seconds of a power play.
 

At 9:54 Slovak captain Vladimir Dravecky took an ill-advised offensive zone penalty for interfering with Sprukts. This gave Latvia a chance to restore the two goal lead, which they did.
 

Cibulskis slapshot was saved by Laco but Andris Dzerins was on the doorstep to collect the rebound and score. Kaspars Daugavins also picked up an assist.
 

Slovakia pulls its goaltender with just over a minute in the game but the extra skater did not have its intended effect. 
 

It's a big win for Latvia as head coach Bob Hartley has been able to pull on the right people at the right time to get his team imn an enviable position: undefeated after two games of World Championship play.

iihf.com

08-05-2017
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