Feb 17, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
The game: No. 6 Switzerland vs. No. 11 Latvia. Tuesday, 12 p.m. ET at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
How they got here: The Swiss used stifling defense and the goaltending of Jonas Hiller to suffocate Group C opponents, allowing just one goal in three games. Every Switzerland contest finished 1-0 (wins over Latvia and the Czechs, loss to Sweden.)
Latvia was one of two teams to go pointless in the preliminary stage — No. 12 Norway was the other — but the Latvians competed hard and were competitive in all three losses.
Who’s hot: Hiller was outstanding in shutout victories over Latvia and the Czechs, stopping a combined 47 shots. He’s given his team the confidence it can win games by scoring just once — as explained by Simon Bondenmann, who netted the lone goal against the Czech Republic.
“Jonas is giving us a chance to win every game,” Bondenmann said, per IIHF.com. “We’d be happy to score a couple more goals, but if we win like this, it doesn’t matter.”
Latvian goalie Edgars Masalskis has been equally good this tournament. The 33-year-old starred against Switzerland in the opener, making 38 saves before Simon Moser scored a fluke deflection goal with eight seconds left. Masalskis followed that up with a stellar 35-save effort against the Czechs, keeping the Latvians in it despite being outplayed (and out-shot, 39-20).
Tampa Bay farmhand Kristers Gudlevskis played the final group game against Sweden, but it’s likely head coach Ted Nolan goes back to Masalskis on Tuesday.
Who’s not: Switzerland’s two best NHL forwards, Nino Niederreiter and Damien Brunner, were being counted on to provide offense. Hasn’t happened. Neither has registered a point, though Niederreiter does have a team-high 10 shots on goal.
Ex-Sens forward Kaspars Daugavins has nearly 100 NHL games on his resume and is one of the leading scorers in the Swiss league this year, yet only has one point (an assist) for Latvia despite averaging over 18 minutes a night.
X-Factor: Switzerland’s razor-thin margin of error. The Swiss are the better team, have more talent and enter the favorites… but were also eight seconds away from going to OT with Latvia in the preliminary round. They just don’t have the offense to put opponents away and that could be an issue because, in single elimination games, an underdog becomes more dangerous the longer it sticks around.
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