By Josh Ferguson
David Krejci scored in overtime to avoid an upset from the scrappy Latvians and send the Czechs to a quarterfinal matchup against Finland with a 3-2 triumph at UBC Thunderbird Arena on Tuesday.
When the two teams met in preliminary action, the Czechs pumped the Latvians for three goals in the opening five minutes of the game on their way to a 5-2 victory.
With Latvian defenseman Georgijs Pujacs in the box early, the Czechs would get off to a quick start again when Tomas Rolinek buried a rebound on the ensuing power play to take a 1-0 lead.
Tomas Fleischmann collected his first goal of the tournament when he snapped one past Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis to take a 2-0 lead in a first period that saw the Czechs outshoot Latvia 16-4.
Speculation will sure to arise about the health of Jaromir Jagr after the Czech star left the game just 50 seconds into the second period. Jagr played 6:03 before removing himself from the Czech bench.
With the absence of their countryman, the Czechs looked content to play with a two-goal lead and win the game by neutralizing the Latvian attack. This opened the door for Latvia and the 12th-seeded underdogs elevated their game in the second by firing 13 shots on the Czech goal, but couldn’t solve Tomas Vokoun.
Thanks to some incredible goaltending from Masalskis – who finished the game with 47 saves on 50 shots – the Latvians were able to stick around in the elimination game. The team finally gave their goaltender some help when Martins Cipulis buried a loose puck to get Latvia on the board.
The Latvians kept chipping away at the Czechs after the Cipulis marker and were rewarded when a Lauris Darzins one-timer bounced off the end boards and right onto the stick of Mikelis Redlihs, who put it into the open cage with Vokoun over-committing to the Darzins blast.
However, Krejci would put a stop to the Cinderella story at the midway point of overtime when he broke into Latvian territory and drew the puck to his forehand before snapping a weak shot that beat a Masalskis through the wickets.
Vokoun made some timely saves for his team and finished with 24 saves on 26 shots for the win.
With or without Jagr, the Czechs are going to need to bounce back from this performance Wednesday when are right back at it in a quarterfinal match with Finland.