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Latvia vs. Slovakia

NHL.com @NHL

It didn't take long for Slovakia to improve upon its performance from the 2002 Olympics. Now it's time for some payback.

Slovakia will try to remain undefeated in Group B play Thursday when it meets surprising Latvia.

A rivalry was established between the countries at the Salt Lake Games when Latvia rallied from three goals down to forge a 6-6 tie and help eliminate Slovakia from advancing to the medal round.

Slovakia already had lost to Germany in its opener and needed a win against the underdog Latvians, who at the time were making their first Olympic appearance in 66 years.

The Slovaks later fell to Austria 3-2 and left Salt Lake without a win in the preliminary round to finish 13th in the 14-team field.

But Marian Gaborik of the Minnesota Wild helped the Slovaks pull off the biggest upset in Wednesday's round-robin play with a 5-3 victory over medal-favorite Russia.

Gaborik scored the go-ahead goal with 3:28 to play and added another in the final minute.

"I try to go out there and skate," said Gaborik, who entered the Olympic break with seven goals in his last eight games for Minnesota. "That's my big thing. I try to create chances for myself and my teammates."

Pavol Demitra of the Los Angeles Kings had a goal and an assist. Kings teammate Lubomir Visnovsky also scored for the Slovaks.

Slovakia will next meet Kazakhstan on Sunday before compelting preliminary-round play Tuesday against another medal favorite, Sweden.

Latvia also opened play Wednesday in surprising fashion when it emerged with a hard-fought 3-3 tie against the heavily favored United States.

The Americans won silver at Salt Lake and are considered one of a favorites to medal in Turin, along with Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden.

Latvia - which sports a roster that contains just two current NHL players and a goalie who turned 39 this month - erased an early two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the second period on goals by Atvars Tribuncovs and Herberts Vasiljevs.

The United States got a goal from Jordan Leopold of the Calgary Flames early in the third period to salvage the tie.

Latvian goaltender Arturs Irbe, who helped the Carolina Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup finals in 2001-02, said the tie was a good as a win to fans back home.

"We were not expected to win or even get the tie," said Irbe, who made 18 of his 39 saves in the third period. "We were big-time underdogs in this game in everybody's eyes except our own people.

"You can say that this probably means more to us than to the American team."

Irbe, who went 0-1-0 with a 4.00 goals-against average in Salt Lake City, played 13 seasons in the NHL and won 218 games.

His stellar play was backed by the return of the team's biggest NHL name in Anaheim Mighty Ducks defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh.

Ozolinsh had two assists days after being reinstated following completion of the league's substance-abuse program.

"I was pretty excited," Ozolinsh said. "Just the usual feelings."

Latvia plays Russia on Sunday and Kazakhstan on Tuesday to wrap up the preliminary round.

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