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Latvia poses tough challenge for Czechs

by Shawn P. Roarke
LATVIA (0-0-0-3, 0 points) vs. CZECH REPUBLIC (2-0-0-1, 6 points)

What to watch -- This is no classic No. 5 vs. No. 12 showdown. The Latvians have been outscored 19-4 in the preliminary round, but they played the Czechs tougher than either of their other two opponents. These teams met five days ago and the Czechs walked away with a 5-2 win. As a result, the Czechs not only garnered a valuable three points for seeding purposes, but also an appreciation for how dangerous this Latvian team can be, despite the fact it finished last among the 12-team field.

"Tomorrow we need to not take the other team lightly, they are good players," Czech goalie Tomas Vokoun said. "We need to be prepared to play our best game." With that being said, if the Czechs show up and bring the same type of game with which they opened the tournament with a win against Slovakia, this should be nothing more than a tune-up for Wednesday's quarterfinal with Finland.

Last game: Latvia lost to Slovakia, 6-0; Czech Republic was defeated by Russia, 4-2.

Team Reports:

Latvia -- The Latvians know that the odds are long for them to earn their first victory of the tournament against the Czechs on Tuesday, but that won't stop them from trying.

"It's simple for us," goalie Edgars Masalskis said Monday. "We have to survive the first minute of the game and we have to survive the first period. There's no other math than that."

In order to survive, the Latvians will have to tighten up their defense, especially the penalty kill. Latvia has allowed 19 goals in three games and does not have the consistent firepower to erase a big lead.

"We have to play closer, and don't give them any space like we did in the first period," Philadelphia defenseman Oskars Bartulis said.

And, who knows? If the Latvians can keep this close into the final 20 minutes, maybe, just maybe, the Czechs begin to feel the pressure.

"Every team wants to win," Bartulis said. "The first three games we lost, but now we can change everything. That is what's interesting about this tournament."

Czech Republic -- For the Czech Republic, this game is all about execution and working on the flaws that were exposed in Sunday's Group B loss to Russia that cost the Czechs a chance at the automatic bye into the quarterfinals granted to the group champion.

"Tomorrow we need to not take the other team lightly, they are good players," said Tomas Vokoun, the Czech goalie. "We need to be prepared to play our best game."

There are three things the Czechs would like to work on in this game: generating a more efficient power play, playing a more controlled game in its own zone and showing some better finishing skill around the opposition's net.

"This playoff game is different from any other game and we changed the lines a little bit," Czech coach Vladimir Ruzicka said. "There are some changes in the offense. We've changed several players on the right side."

Total NHL players in game: Latvia: 2. Czech Republic: 16.

Puck Drop -- Nothing is a given and the Czech know that they can't get caught looking ahead to a matchup against the Finns in Wednesday's quarterfinal. To do so could have disastrous results.

"This is a team (Latvia) that has nothing to lose," Ruzicka said. "They will work hard and they are brave."

With that said, the Czechs would have to complete a colossal meltdown to fall to the bottom-seeded team and hope not to fall into too many bad habits if the game turns into the blowout that many believe it will become. predicts: Latvia has neither the defensive depth, nor the goaltending quality to have a true hope of springing the upset. They have been outscored by an average of more than five goals in its three preliminary games and the Czechs will become the latest team to get healthy at the expense of Latvia. A 6-1 scoreline should restore the Czech confidence in time for the quarterfinals.
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