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Canada holds off Latvia 2-1 in Olympic thriller

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm •  Published: February 19, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Canada put shots by the dozens on Kristers Gudlevskis, and Latvia's kid goalie stopped nearly everything in a performance that grew from sensational to a bit supernatural.

Late in the third period, Canada finally replaced all that quantity with quality. Shea Weber's slap shot is widely considered the best in hockey, and it put the defending Olympic champions past the lively underdogs — and into a rematch with their neighbors.

Weber scored a tiebreaking power-play goal with 6:54 to play, and Canada survived an enormous scare from Latvia to advance to the Olympic men's hockey semifinals with a 2-1 victory Wednesday night.

Carey Price made 15 saves for the Canadians, who were stretched to the limit by Gudlevskis. The 21-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect made 55 saves in a spectacular performance, nearly pulling off one of the biggest upsets in hockey history largely by himself.

"That was one of the best goaltending performances I've ever seen," said Price, the Montreal Canadiens' three-time NHL All-Star goalie.

Weber unleashed his peerless slapper late in a power play, and Canada finally took the lead on its 54th shot. An entire hockey-worshipping nation exhaled, and Canada advanced to a semifinal meeting with the similarly unbeaten United States on Friday in a rematch of the gold-medal game in Vancouver four years ago.

"We had a lot of chances, but we knew it was going to be tough," said Weber, who injured Latvia defenseman Oskars Bartulis with his slap shot earlier in the third. "You saw how many shots we had to take. You just have to stay focused and patient and stick to what you do well. Eventually, finally, it paid off for us."

One night after 11th-seeded Latvia recorded its first Olympic victory in 12 years to reach its first quarterfinals, Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan's team improbably tested the champs.

"I play for my teammates, because they play so good every game," said Gudlevskis, who has played mostly for the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Syracuse lately. "They did everything tonight and I just wanted to give them the opportunity to win this game. ... You start to believe and then you just work hard."

Lauris Darzins scored a breakaway goal in the first period for Latvia, which lost all three of its preliminary-round games before surprising Switzerland 3-1 on Tuesday. The Baltic nation of 2 million people has been in the last four Olympic fields after a 66-year absence, but hadn't won a game since 2002.

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