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Sākums » 2009 » Maijs » 2 » Au revoir, France: Latvia wins
Au revoir, France: Latvia wins
19:44

Cipulis scores twice as Latvians set sights on top eight

02-05-09



BERNE – Call them the Little Baltic Country That Could. The Latvians earned their fourth straight victory at this tournament on Saturday, eliminating France from quarter-finals contention with a 7-1 thrashing. Two goals 2:36 apart in the second sealed France's fate.

With the win, Latvia sits at seven points, significantly enhancing its chances of edging out either Switzerland or Sweden for a quarter-final berth in Group E of the Qualification Round. France has zero points.

Martins Cipulis paced the Latvian attack with two goals, while Aleksandrs Nizivijs added a goal and two assists. Lauris Darzins, Karlis Skrastins, Girts Ankipans and Aleksandrs Jerofeyevs also scored for Latvia. Herberts Vasiljevs added three assists, and Martins Karsums had two.

Luc Tardif tallied the lone goal for France.

Edgars Masalskis won the goaltending duel with Fabrice Lhenry as Latvia outshot France 38-28.

On May 3, Latvia rounds out its Qualification Round slate versus Russia, and France does likewise versus Sweden on May 4.

If winning is contagious, then the Latvians are one sick hockey team right now. And they're loving it. From the outset, it was clear the maroon-and-white squad wanted to carry the play offensively, while the French would focus on defending and trying to keep up.

Latvia jumped out to a 1-0 lead at 7:29 when Guntis Galvins cleverly fired the puck off the end boards and it bounced out to Nizivijs on the open side of the net, where he made no mistake.

When the French did get an opportunity, such as a Yorick Treille backhand in tight with just over four minutes left in the first, Masalskis was there to smother the puck.

Latvia extended its lead to 2-0 at 1:19 of the second when Cipulis got the puck just above the hash marks and wired it past Lhenry. At 3:55, the Latvians went up 3-0 on a flukey goal by Darzins, as his attempted cross-ice pass deflected high off French captain Vincent Bachet's skate and into the net just after a French minor had expired.

Baptiste Amar rang a shot off the crossbar during a subsequent French power play, but that was as close as Les Bleus would get in the middle frame.

The Latvians added some insurance at 7:39 of the third, as Skrastins pinched in and faked out Lhenry, shoveling home a backhander. Jerofejevs made it 5-1 at 8:18 with a wrister off a faceoff in the French end.

With 8:22 left, Tardif banged home a rebound to spoil the shutout bid of Masalskis.

Ankipans restored Latvia's five-goal lead with 7:36 remaining, converting a cross-crease feed from Herberts Vasiljevs. Just 15 seconds later, Cipulis added the 7-1 goal as the French truly wilted, and the Latvian fans pounded their drums with sheer delight.

Nizijivs was Latvia's Player of the Game, and Baptiste Amar was chosen for France.

Latvia is gunning for its fourth quarter-finals appearance since cracking the top division in 1997. The previous three came in 1997, 2000, and 2004.

Latvia's all-time record versus France in top-division World Championship competition now stands at three wins and zero losses.

A sign among the 6,472 spectators at PostFinance Arena read, “Nous sommes super fiers de nos Bleus--allez la France” (“We are super-proud of our Blues—go France!”). It was easy to understand why French fans feel good about their team, quarter-finals or no quarter-finals. At the very least, 2009 will mark France's best finish in IIHF World Championship play since 1997 (11th).

LUCAS AYKROYD
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