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The late show
Swiss strike with eight seconds left
It was a long time in coming, but Switzerland finally grabbed a hard-fought victory over a resilient Latvia.
With just 7.9 seconds left on the clock the Swiss attack at last found a way past an inspired Edgars Masalskis to snatch a dramatic 1-0 victory.
It was a heart-breaking goal to concede - Simon Moser went behind the red line and fired the puck towards Nino Niederreiter, only for the luckless Georgijs Pujacs to deflect the puck into his own net.
"I just tried to get it deep and I saw Niederreiter pressuring the net," the goal scorer said. "I just threw it in front and luckily it went in. I didn't really see how it got there, I just tried to the throw the puck."
That was the 39th shot Masalskis had faced as the Swiss piled on the pressure. And Masalskis belied any fears of ring-rustiness in a season where he has played just five games in Slovakia's Extraliga as preparation for tonight's stellar display.
"It wasn't so hard to adjust to the game," he said. "I trained a lot for this game, and the only problem was that it was so hot out there. It's a lot time since I've played in such a warm arena and that was physically tough."
Despite the defeat, Masalskis felt that the Latvian team showed good potential: "I don't think there's anything to worry about - we played quite well and we showed a bit of what we can do. We hit the post but we didn't get any luck. Now we just have to keep going."
The first period quickly developed into a conflict between probing Swiss offence and resolute Latvian defence, with Masalskis showing his skills early on.Continue reading
The Latvians had promised a hard-working, disciplined performance - familiar to anyone who has watched Dinamo Riga in the KHL this season - and that was exactly what they offered, seeking to block up centre ice and set up swift counter-attacks where possible.
But after Lauris Darzins tested Jonas Hiller in the first minute, the action was more about hard work in front of Masalskis, with only Sandis Ozolins able to find breathing space in his own zone.
The veteran Stanley Cup winner showed his class in defusing a potential 2-on-1 breakaway, squeezing Andres Ambuhl out of the danger zone and cutting Reto Suri out of the game with smart positioning.
"We battled with all our hearts," said the 41-year-old, whose love of hockey has been rekindled by his return to the international scene. "We didn't get much luck, but there's no point saying we could have done this or that. The score is the only thing that matters now."
Beyond that, it was Masalskis to the fore. Switzerland's power play was probing, and the goalie did well to deny Damien Brunner before surpassing himself with a sprawling block on a Nino Niederreiter shot after incisive interplay from Kevin Romy and Roman Wick.
Early in the second Brunner rejoined his duel with the goalie, firing off a one-timer from Roman Wick's pass only to encounter Masalskis' right pad sliding into place.
Even when the Swiss got the puck beyond the stopper, with Yannick Weber firing in a shot which bobbled over the goalie's pad, Arturs Kulda was on hand to scramble it to safety just before the midway point in the game.
After that Latvia enjoyed its best spell of pressure, with Hiller finally getting a chance to show his reactions to make a solid save from Miks Indrasis. Hiller's performance was none too shabby either, stopping 21 efforts for a shutout.
His most uncomfortable moment came midway through the third when Zemgus Girgensons - Latvia's only current NHLer - slid the puck beneath the flailing leg of a Swiss defenceman for Ronalds Kenins to clip the outside of the post as he looked to roof it.
But Latvia could not turn Masalskis' heroics into a first Olympic victory since 2002, and go on to face the Czechs off the back of a deflating loss.
Switzerland, meanwhile, prepares to meet Sweden in good spirit, but defenceman Julien Vauclair sounded a note of caution.
"We've got two very good teams to come," he said. "The Swedes and the Czechs are among the best in the world. But we showed some really aggressive hockey out there and we have a chance. Now we focus on Sweden and we'll try to win that game."
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