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Canada Survives Latvia to Reach Semifinals

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Shea Weber broke the tie late in the third period to give Canada the 2-1 victory.

Canada Survives Latvia to Reach Semifinals

The Olympic hockey game between Canada and Latvia today could easily be replaced with the movie 300. Canada was the mighty Persian Empire while Latvia played the role of the Spartan 300. Canada was expected to win, and they did, but their complete onslaught and might didn't force Latvia to just roll over. The Latvians made life as difficult as possible for Canada, and they very came away with one of the bigger upsets in Olympic history.

When you look at the numbers, it's apparent how much Canada controlled the game. Latvia was out-shot 57-16. They barely held control of the puck in the offensive zone. But they withstood every wave of attack and even managed to take advantage of a breakaway goal in the first to tie things up at one. The score remained still even as shots kept getting fired at young 21-year-old goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. The longer the Canadians were kept off the board, and the longer Gudlevskis kept turning away shots, the realer the possibility of an upset became. Gudlevskis was clearly playing the King Leonidas role in this scenario, leading his troops forward behind a near-superhuman effort.

But, just like the tale of the 300, something had to give. Latvia's only penalty of the third period proved costly. While they had killed off the previous three penalties, they could not keep the Canadians down a fourth time. Nashville Predators defender Shea Weber received a one-timer from Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, and this is what he did with it in GIF form (via SI.com):

That one-timer was, in essence, the final arrow plunging into Leonidas. The Latvians never were able to mount a formidable rush, though they had some chances, and Canada escaped with the 2-1 victory.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp scored the only other goal of the game, and that came relatively early in the first period. No one else was able to put one past Gudlevskis, who was simply brilliant. On the night, he made 55 saves on 57 shots. That is the absolute definition of standing on your head, and his effort nearly won the game alone. Gudlevskis is currently in the Tampa Bay Lightning's minor league system, and the organization has to be ecstatic with that effort he put forth. But Canada is simply too deep. They just keep coming, and while Latvia put up an incredibly admirable fight, Canada was always going to break through.

While Canada definitely has to feel fortunate to get out with the win, they absolutely dominated the game. There is no reason for them to feel on edge just because they faced an inspired goaltending performance. Their plan worked, just not on the scoreboard. They really won't have to change much moving forward except hoping that a few more of those shots go in next time and the goalie isn't as hot as Gudlevskis was.

The win puts Canada in the semifinals where they will meet the USA in a rematch of the 2010 Gold-Medal match from Vancouver. That game was an all-time classic, and this one will determine which nation gets to play for gold. The semifinal will take place Friday at 12:00 p.m. EST, and it could be another memorable matchup.

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