Winter Olympics 2014: Day 8 Recap, the world meets Kristers Gudlevskis
The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect stopped 55 of 57 shots from the Canadian squad in a herculean effort but Latvia fell just short in a 2-1 loss that Kristers Gudlevskis nearly stole by himself. Sweden shuts down Slovenia, Finland shocks host Russia, and USA continues to roll against Czech Republic in
At the beginning of the broadcast, Brian Engblom mistakenly referred to goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis as "Edgars Masalskis", his teammate who had played the night before and shut down Switzerland to get the Latvians into the unenviable position of a quarterfinal game vs. Canada. Setting aside the fact that there is a pronounced height, age, and style difference between the two goaltenders, it's understandable why this mistake was made. Masalskis had been making a name for himself, and everyone knows you ride the hot goalie, so there was little doubt Ted Nolan, head coach of the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, would start Masalskis vs. Canada. Right?
By the end of 60 minutes, during which Gudlevskis faced almost one shot on goal per minute, it's doubtful anyone will ever make that mistake again.
The quarterfinals featured some new blood, like the aforementioned Latvia or the Anze Kopitar-led Slovenia. More traditional hockey powers rounded out the rest of the group as each team vied to make it through to the semifinals and guarantee themselves an opportunity to play for a medal in Sochi.
Sweden (5) vs. Slovenia (0)
Slovenia's measured, careful, defensive strategy held for a while.
It led them to surprising victories over supposedly more-developed hockey nations like Slovakia or Austria, and into this quarterfinal match-up with the top-seeded, undefeated Swedes.
It even led them to a 1-0 deficit after two periods versus the Tre Konor. Sweden managed only a single goal past Robert Kristan despite peppering him with 26 shots through the first twenty minutes, and that came on the power play when an odd bounce gave Alex Steen of the St. Louis Blues an empty net to shoot at from near the goal line.
But Sweden eventually broke through for 4 more unanswered 5v5 goals in the third period: two from New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin and one each from Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks.
Henrik Lundqvist, with perhaps yet an another in a developing MVP caliber tournament, stopped all 19 Slovenian shots to earn the shutout victory.
Sweden will face off against Finland in the semi-finals.
Finland (3) vs. Russia (1)
Despite being outshot 38-22, Finland managed a 3-1 victory against Russia, eliminating the host country from medal contention, on the back of team defense, elite goaltending, and a little bit of luck.
It's no surprise how Finland has played in this tournament, especially minus two of their most offensively gifted players in Mikko Koivu of the Minnesota Wild and Valterri Filppula from the Tampa Bay Lightning -- not to mention rookie sensation Aleksandr Barkov of the Florida Panthers, who is battling an injury sustained in Sochi.
Finland collapsed to the center of the ice all game long, ceding the wide rushes and long-range shots, opting instead to protect the slot and front of the net from world-class snipers like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Semin.
Their strategy worked, for the most part, as only Kovalchuk found twine for Russia when he snapped a shot past Rask on the power play barely 7 minutes into the game. With the home crowd behind them, it seemed to many like Finland's luck may have finally run out.
That's when Rask shut the door.
The Boston Bruins' netminder stopped everything else the Russians threw at him, and Finland made good on the few chances they got -- mostly against the 4th line for Russia. Juhamatti Aaltonen evened the score on a drive to the net around Columbus Blue Jackets' defender Nikita Nikitin, and the top unit for the Finns of Mikael Granlund between Teemu Selanne and Jarkko Immonen cashed in two more goals on just 15 total shots for the game to put it out of reach.
Sami Salo, still skating primarily with Olli Maata, kept a clean sheet in 15:24 of ice time, as Finland smartly managed his minutes even while enduring the desperate Russian offensive that increased pressure as time wore down. He was off the first power play unit, where his big slap shot can be a weapon, but played on the second power play defense pair and still took a regular penalty kill shift and was on the ice when Kovalchuk scored the game's opening goal on the power play.
While the number one concern for many Lightning fans with Salo at these Olympics has been the notoriously brittle defenseman emerging from them healthy, there's no doubt some relief in seeing him playing confidently and conservatively while his dynamic partner does all the offensive heavy lifting. Maatta led the Finns in ice time with 19:54, and he played nearly half the final period (8:18) with Finland fiercely clinging to the lead.
Maatta and Salo have, quite quietly, been one of the best defense pairings in these Olympics. That pair will have to continue to play well in the next round vs. Sweden if the Finns have any chance at keeping hope for a gold medal alive.
USA (5) vs. Czech Republic (2)
The American machine keeps chugging along, silencing what little criticism anyone had about being a "one line team" after getting 5 goals from 5 different players en route to an easy 5-2 win over the Czech Republic.
While Ondrej Pavelec often gets the benefit of the doubt in the NHL, he was routinely found out of position by the American shooters, poorly managing his depth in the crease and his coverage of the posts. James van Riemsdyk struck first for USA, but was quickly answered after a bouncing puck off Ales Hemsky's stick made its way past Jonathan Quick to tie the game 1-1.
From there, it was all USA. Dustin Brown, David Backes, and Zach Parise all scored for the Americans, chasing Pavelec from the net just shy of the half-way mark of the game and beating his replacement, Alex Salak, once for the 5-2 final score.
Canada (2) vs. Latvia (1)
What should have been a blowout ended up the most intriguing match-up of the day, as Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Kristers Gudlevskis captivated the entire hockey universe for sixty minutes by standing on his head to keep over 50 shots from Team Canada out of the net.
On a day when NHL superstar goaltenders Tuukka Rask (who made 37 saves to knock out host Russia) and Henrik Lundqvist (shutout Slovenia for top-ranked Sweden) both had great days, Gudlevskis was the worldwide story. His performance was that sensational.
Clare Austin has been following Gudlevskis closely since he was drafted by the Lightning last year and she has the story here.
Martin St. Louis skated just 4:51 as the 13th/extra forward again, taking only two shifts in the first period, four in the second, and none in the third. It remains unclear if or how he will be used moving foward, especially considering the injury to John Tavares, who had been centering the fourth line for Canada. St. Louis took a few shifts with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz but failed to score any points again. Fortunately for Canada, they have a number of natural centers playing wing, so someone can move down to anchor the bottom line; St. Louis, as a winger, may be healthy scratched as a result, however.
With the men off today, the semi-finals begin tomorrow to decide who plays for bronze and who plays for gold. Finland (Sami Salo) and Sweden will square off in the first semi-final at 7AM Eastern; that game will be followed by USA vs. Canada (Martin St. Louis) at 12PM noon Eastern.