Latvia

For all the Canadians who thought they were getting Switzerland, here’s a quick primer on Latvia

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Latvia pulled the biggest upset of the opening playoff round with a 3-1 win over Switzerland at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Tuesday to advance to the quarterfinals.

While it wasn’t exactly a David vs. Goliath situation — the Swiss were favored, though not overwhelmingly — there is a sense of surprise among Canadians, many of whom penciled the Swiss in as a quarterfinalist (assuming they were filling out brackets… and doing it in pencil.)

So, here’s what you need to know.

— The Latvians only have one current NHLer, Buffalo rookie Zemgus Girgensons. That said, there are several players with NHL experience: Sandis Ozolinsh, Kaspars Daugavins, Martins Karsums, Arturs Kulda, Oskars Bartulis, Janis Sprukts and Herbert Vasiljevs.

— Their goalie is Edgars Masalskis, a 33-year-old European league journeyman who didn’t even have a team at the start of this season. He’s a pretty good story, and an even better quote.

“I wouldn’t say that we invented some space rocket,” he said after beating the Swiss, per the Olympic News Service. “They have a good team and they were the favorites, that was obvious. But we just knew that we could beat them and get into the top eight at the Olympics.

“I think that, for such a country like Latvia, it’s a big achievement already.”

— They’re coached by current Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan. He’s been in charge of the national team since 2011, and his guys love him.

“We never had a coach that actually believes in the players,” said Daugavins, per TSN 1050. “He actually makes us believe that we’re actually a good team.”

— They’ve never finished higher than ninth at the Olympics.

— Tuesday’s win was their first of the tournament, guaranteeing them a top-eight finish.

— Latvia has played Canada 11 times internationally, losing 10. Their best result came at the 1997 World Championships, when they tied the Canadians 3-3 during the preliminary stage (a result made even more impressive by the fact Canada went on to win the tournament.)

— Their worst result came at the 1935 Worlds, when Canada beat ’em 14-0.

— The last time the two nations met was at the 2010 Worlds, where Canada won 6-1.

— Their plan of attack to beat Canada this time around?

“We’re just going to tell our goalie to stop every shot,” Daugavins said. “We can’t lose right?”

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov (15) scores a goal against Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand celebrates after scoring on a penalty shot during the overtime period of the Boston Bruins 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.

Video: Mika Zibanejad’s check to Tyler Bozak’s head

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Saturday’s been unkind to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and not just on the scoreboard (where it’s 3-0 early on against the Ottawa Senators).

The Maple Leafs lost Tyler Bozak to an apparent upper-body injury thanks to a questionable hit by Sens forward Mika Zibanejad.

You can judge that check (which drew a minor penalty for illegal check to the head) in the video above. Again, Bozak will not return to tonight’s game.

It’s unclear if Bozak will miss time beyond this contest.

Update: It didn’t get much better going forward; the Senators beat the Maple Leafs 6-1.