It was one of the most one-sided games you’ll ever see.
And it was also one of the closest.
In a contest that viewers almost had a hard time believing, Canada avoided one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history with a 2-1 win over Latvia at the Bolshoy Ice Dome on Wednesday. Victory did not come easy for the Canadians despite carrying the play for extended stretches while out-shooting the Latvians by a staggering 57-16 margin — and that was all thanks to one man, goalie Kristers Gudlevskis.
Gudlevskis, the 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning farmhand, turned in an absolutely phenomenal performance for the overmatched Latvians, setting a tournament high for saves in a game with 55.
The only Canadians to beat him on the day were Patrick Sharp and Shea Weber — who notched the game-winner with less than seven minutes remaining. Lauris Darzins replied for the Latvians, converting a long stretch pass from Sandis Ozolinsh into a breakaway goal.
The story of the game, though, starts and ends with Gudlevskis. It was an effort that pushed him to the point of exhaustion as, immediately prior to the Weber goal, the Latvian trainer was called onto the ice to tend to Gudlevskis, who looked to be either exhausted or injured, or a combination of both.
Latvia also had some puck luck go its way in the third period, when a diving save by Kristaps Sotnieks kept a would-be Canadian goal out of the net. Just one problem — Sotnieks was a skater, not a goalie, and putting his hand on the puck in the crease should’ve resulted in a penalty shot. The referees missed the call, though, and play continued after a brief video replay.
As for Canada, the team will undoubtedly be disappointed with its lack of finish, but hard pressed to complain about generating chances and keeping puck possession. Canada fired 16 shots on goal in the first period, 19 in the second, 22 in the third and has now out-shot its opponents 168-73 over five tournament games.