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Latvia needs win over Kazakhstan and help to qualify for quarterfinals

NHL.com @NHL

Latvia has never been this close to a quarterfinal berth in the Olympics, yet it has little chance of advancing.

Needing a big victory in its final preliminary round contest and probably too much help to move on, Latvia takes on Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

Latvia is in fifth place in Group B with one point, two points behind the United States for the fourth and final quarterfinal berth in the group. For the Latvians to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in the country's history, they need to beat Kazakhstan and get a big assist from Russia, their former Soviet Union brethren, which faces the struggling United States on Tuesday.

The goal differential between Latvia and the U.S. is minus-16. In addition to beating Kazakhstan, Latvia must overcome that margin to earn the tiebreaker and advance to the next round. Therefore, Latvia will likely need to rout Kazakhstan and have Russia blow out the Americans - both of which are highly unlikely scenarios taken by themselves.

Latvia couldn't help itself Sunday against Russia, falling 9-2. Ilya Kovalchuk scored four goals to help deal the Latvians what was probably the final blow in this tournament.

Aigars Cipruss and Mikelis Redlihs scored for Latvia, which earned its only point in Turin with a 3-3 tie against the U.S. in its opener Wednesday.

After that surprising draw, Latvia fell 6-3 to Slovakia on Thursday, and followed that up with a 6-1 rout at the hands of Sweden on Saturday before succumbing to Russia on Sunday. It will be facing Kazakhstan in the Olympics for the first time.

Latvia will need to undergo a stunning offensive transformation if it is to have any hope of capturing the unlikely tiebreaker. With nine goals, only Kazakhstan has generated less offense in Group B, and Aleksandrs Nizivijs leads the Latvian team with two goals and four points.

Such a turnaround may be even more unlikely against Kazakhstan, which plays a defensive style and held high-scoring Slovakia and Russia to three total goals.

Latvia's defense has struggled throughout the Olympics, allowing a tournament-high 24 goals, but Kazakhstan has scored only four times, fewest in the tournament.

Latvia has used three goaltenders in Turin, but Arturs Irbe has seen the bulk of the playing time and is expected to start Tuesday.

Kazakhstan played well against unbeaten Slovakia before losing 2-1 on Sunday, a defeat that eliminated it from the tournament. The team is in sixth place in the group after losing all four first-round games.

"I think we've been practicing the penalty kill for the last four games," Kazakhstan center Nikolai Antropov said. "We've played almost the equivalent of one game short-handed. There's nothing you can do about it. You just go out there and defend your net."

Kazakhstan accumulated 20 penalty minutes against Slovakia and has 80 through four games in the tournament, but has allowed only five power-play goals.

Yevgeniy Koreshkov scored against Slovakia and leads Kazakhstan with three goals. Vladimir Antipin has the other.

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