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Switzerland survives epic upset bid from Ted Nolan’s Latvia

Greg Wyshynski
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Latvia goaltender Edgars Masalskis looks down at the ice as Switzerland forward Martin Pluss celebrates the winning goal by Switzerland forward Simon Moser during the closing seconds of the 2014 Winter Olympics men's ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia
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Latvia goaltender Edgars Masalskis looks down at the ice as Switzerland forward Martin Pluss celebrates the winning goal by Switzerland forward Simon Moser during the closing seconds of the 2014 Winter Olympics men's ice hockey game at Shayba Arena, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

SOCHI, Russia – Simon Moser had seen this scenario before: Where a feisty underdog with a scorching hot goalie hangs with the favorite until the bitter end, and something freaky needs to happen to break the stalemate.

“At games like this, [crappy] goals make the difference,” said the Swiss forward on Wednesday night in Sochi, “and we’re happy to get it.”

Moser’s pass in front of the Latvian crease didn’t find teammate Nino Niederreiter, but it did connect with the stick and body of defenseman Georgijs Pujacs. It bounced off him and behind goalie Edgars Masalskis, giving the Swiss a 1-0 lead.

A 1-0 lead with 7.9 seconds left in regulation.

“To lose in the last seven seconds, is just unlucky,” said Latvia forward and Buffalo Sabres prospect Zemgus Girgensons, after his team’s defeat in their Sochi Olympics opener against the Swiss.

“It wasn’t that they made a really good play or something. Could have gone wide. Could have gone in. Unfortunately, it went in.”

For years, it’s been the Swiss that have played the role of underdog tormentor to teams like the Canadians. But after winning a silver medal in the 2013 IIHF world championships, the Swiss are entering games with expectations from the hockey world.

“Everybody expected us to win tonight,” said Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks, who pitched a 21-save shutout for the Swiss. “But you’re at the Olympics. There are no easy games. It’s easier when no one expects you to win, but we expected ourselves to win tonight.”

Coach Sean Simpson said the Swiss are still learning how to play as favorites.

“Coming off the silver medal last year, the expectations in Switzerland are through the roof, higher than you can imagine,” he said. “As a team, we’ve got our feet firmly on the ground. There’s no panic.”

Nor was their panic from the Latvians, who haven’t won an Olympic game since a 4-2 win over Austria in Feb. 2002. They pushed the Swiss to the brink in their first Olympic tournament game under head coach Ted Nolan of the Buffalo Sabres, thanks in part to a brilliant 38-save night from Masalskis.

“Unfortunately, it’s a game of mistakes. And we made a couple at the end of the game,” said Nolan. “When you give a team like Switzerland those opportunities, that’s what’s going to cost you.”

Nolan has spent the last three years improving Latvia’s hockey team and hockey program. On Wednesday night in Sochi, they played a tournament darling to a 0-0 draw deep into the third period. It’s something to build on for Nolan and his team. But also something they’ll need to put behind them.

“You just have to forget about it,” said Girgensons, who plays for Nolan on last-place Buffalo, on the last-seconds loss.

“I’ve been through this a lot this season.”

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