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IIHF – Latvia blank Kazakhstan

IIHF – Latvia blank Kazakhstan


After a few extra periods, Latvia had mercy on the blood pressure of its supporters with a more comfortable victory over Kazakhstan.

Despite going unbeaten through their first two matches, last year's bronze medalist led for just six minutes in the tournament so far and has never had a lead greater than one goal.

Today it took some time for Kazakhstan goalkeeper Andrei Shutov to be resolved, but when Roberts Bukarts opened the scoring midway through the second period, the Latvians closed out the match for a first regular-season victory in Ostrava. Haralds Egle scored a second goal in the middle frame, while Kristers Gudlevskis made 22 saves for his first shutout of the tournament.

And the goaltending received a big compliment from defender Kristaps Zile after a match-winning performance.

“We have two great goalkeepers here in this tournament. We can put both of them in the net and everything will be fine,” Zile said. “Kristers stood on his head today. He supported the team when needed, and we also blocked some shots and helped him, so that's a team effort.”

Kazakhstan, strong against France but outmatched against Slovakia, made a better start. Three power plays in the first period allowed the Kazakhs to gain a foothold in the match. However, despite some good spells of attacking possession, there were relatively few clear-cut chances for Gudlevskis.

Throughout the match, Mikhail Rakhmanov managed to disrupt the Latvian defense, but ultimately let him and his linemates down. Early in the second period, Rakhmanov led a two-on-one attack, but Bukarts did well to put pressure on Oleg Boiko by shooting wide of the goal.

Latvia responded by applying its own pressure and forcing its first power play of the game. With 90 seconds left on the delayed penalty before Alikhan Omirbekov went into the penalty area, this was almost a de facto double minor call. The advantage did not result in a goal, but turned the momentum in Latvia's favor.

That pressure paid off in the 32nd minute. In an offensive face-off, the Latvians took the puck from the corner. Oskars Batna circled to the center of the zone, put the puck on Roberts Bukarts' stick and shot the goal from close range. In the first two games, Latvia's Daugavins-Abols-Dzierkals line produced 10 points and six of eight goals, raising concerns about the team's scoring depth. Today, the 33-year-old Bukarts answered the call for extra goals.

“Even before we scored, I thought we were the better team,” said the goalscorer. “Then I found a good rebound and it became 1-0. Then we closed the show.”

On the other hand, the Rakhmanov line again came close to unlocking the Latvian rearguard. A three-on-one rush broke down due to great positioning from Janis Jaks and by the time Alikhan Assetov fed Rakhmanov, the veteran forward was running out of space to get a shot off.

And there was more frustration for the Kazakhs after 35 minutes when Valeriy Orekhov tried to chip the puck over Haralds Egle and out of the zone. However, Egle jumped up, knocked the puck back to the ice and advanced to double the Latvian lead. That was a first World Cup goal for the 28-year-old Egle, and more secondary goals to keep the coach happy.

However, there was not much luck for Kazakhstan. “We have to be better in all aspects,” said Leonid Metalnikov. “We need to show more aggression in attack and of course we need to eliminate those schoolboy mistakes in defence.”

For much of the third period, Latvia liked to play on the scoreboard. With the rare luxury of a lead to defend, Harijs Vitolins' team adopted a safety-first approach and made it difficult for Kazakhstan to get a good look at Gudlevskis. It was only in the final five minutes that the goalkeeper had to distinguish himself with a top-shelf save, but as Nikita Mikhailis drove clear, this season's DEL Goalkeeper of the Year showed his class to stone the recent Gagarin Cup winner .

Latvia's victory puts it in 10th place out of the last 11 World Cup matches, a run interrupted only by last year's semi-final loss to Canada in Tampere. Can Latvia contribute to last year's historic medal?

“That conversation is exciting, but it also adds more pressure because now we know we can do it,” Zile said. “It used to seem like a dream, but now we have made the dream come true and we know it is possible. We always want to go as high as possible. We do our best.”




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