NHL

Alfredsson, Sweden fend off Latvia to stay atop Group C

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CBC
2/15/2014 2:40:24 PM
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It was a classic mismatch on paper.

The 11th-ranked Latvians pitted against the powerhouse Swedes. The 2006 Turin gold medallists versus the last-place finishers from the 2010 Vancouver Games.

But Team Sweden had its hands full in booking its spot in the quarter-finals of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Saturday, earning a hard-fought 5-3 win over the pesky Latvian side.

Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson and Alex Edler each had a goal and assist for Team Sweden at Shayba Arena.

Sweden (3-0), which finished its round-robin atop Group C, was also fuelled by goals from Patrik Berglund and Jimmie Ericsson. The Swedes were spectacular with the man advantage, going 4-for-5 on the power play.

Karlsson now has five points (three goals, two assists) in three games in Sochi.

Janis Sprukts had a goal and assist, while Lauris Darzins and Zemgus Girgensons – the only current NHLer on the team – also scored for Latvia (0-3), which went 2-for-4 on the power play.

Sweden came into the game as heavy favourites, boasting much more NHL and international experience.

But Latvia, coached by Buffalo Sabres bench boss Ted Nolan, found a way to level things out on the ice, never quitting with some energetic and feisty play.

Latvian netminder Kristers Gudlevskis didn't look like a goalie making his first Olympic appearance, either. He was poised, calm and collected in making 25 stops on 30 shots.

Perhaps his best came off the stick of Loui Eriksson in the third period. Gudlevskis was seemingly at the mercy of Daniel Sedin, who sent a cross-crease pass to a wide-open Eriksson. But the Latvian goalie was up to the task and stretched out to steal what looked like a sure goal from the Bruins winger.

Latvia kept the Swedes on their toes throughout the game, trading scoring chances and forcing Lundqvist to make several tough stops throughout the game. The New York Rangers netminder finished with 20 saves and helped keep the Latvian attack at bay.

The Swedes broke through and opened the scoring on a power play at 15:50 of the first period while Krisjanis Redlihs was in the penalty box, with Berglund redirecting a Karlsson point shot into the back of the net.

Latvia tied it 1-1 on a spectacular passing play fuelled by Janis Sprukts. From his own blue-line, he did his best Chris Pronger impression and sent a tape-to-tape long pass to Kristaps Sotnieks, who found a streaking Lauris Darzins.

The 29-year-old showed excellent patience in outwaiting his world-class counterpart Lundqvist, beating him with a sneaky backhand move.

The short-handed Swedes were already without the services of one of their top snipers in Henrik Zetterberg, who was forced to pull out of the Winter Games with a herniated disc in his back.

The Swedish Ice Hockey Federation announced the injury after Sweden's 4-2 victory over the Czech Republic Thursday.

But it was just another in a list of star forwards to drop out of the Games with health issues. Vancouver Canucks captain Henrik Sedin pulled out of Sochi on the eve of the Olympics with a rib injury.

The normally durable 33-year-old had his National Hockey League ironman streak snapped at 679 games last month, a franchise best in Vancouver.

Detroit Red Wings workhorse Johan Franzen, a key presence in front of the net unafraid to get physical, is also on the injury list for Sweden with a concussion.

Sweden celebrates (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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