Eriksson scores hat trick as Swedes slam Latvia
The two-time Olympian and five-time World Championship participant, who plays for the NHL’s Boston Bruins, showed exceptional chemistry on the top line with Anton Lander and Filip Forsberg.
"If you look at the first ten minutes, they were the better team," said Lander. "But then we took the game over, got some power play goals, and we got some momentum."
Joel Lundqvist potted a goal and an assist, and Forsberg, Oscar Moller, Jacob Josefson, and Victor Rask also scored for Sweden. Oliver Ekman-Larsson chipped in two helpers.
Lauris Darzins replied for Latvia, which remains pointless.
"We got kicked badly today, so hopefully it will make us go out there and play mad next game and win," said Latvian captain Kaspars Daugavins.
Unusually, this game featured two Swedish penalty shots. The final result, however, was hardly unusual.
In 12 all-time World Championship meetings, the Latvians have never beaten Sweden in regulation time at the IIHF World Championship. They earned a 1-1 tie in their first-ever meeting in 1997, and won 3-2 in 2009 on an Alexandrs Nizivijs shootout goal.
Goalie Jhonas Enroth, who played in Sweden’s 6-5 win over the host Czechs, returned between the pipes and was solid. He outduelled Latvia's Edgars Masalskis as shots favoured Sweden 36-20.
There were two distinctly different approaches in the O2 Arena crowd of 15,315. The Latvian fans pounded drums and chanted “Latvia!” and “Sarauj!” from the get-go. The Swedish fans sat politely, clapped, and waited for their team to score. And their patience would be rewarded, even though it remained a one-goal game for more than 30 minutes.
Hoping to avoid a third consecutive defeat, Latvia got off to a strong-skating start and forced the Swedes into the opening stanza’s first penalty, an interference minor against Forsberg.
With under three minutes left in the period, the Latvians got a glorious shorthanded chance on a 2-on-1, but Enroth slid across to stymie Darzins’s low shot.
At 17:37, Eriksson opened the scoring on the power play, coming along the goal line and firing the puck off a Latvian defender’s skate and up over Masalskis on the short side.
"They had us on our heels, but then we scored a big goal on the power play," said Josefson. "After that, the whole team started to move a lot better."
Krisjanis Redlihs was shaken up at the start of the second period when he was struck by a slap shot in the Swedish zone. Ironically, it came from his older brother, Mikelis Redlihs. However, Krisjanis would return to the game.
The Swedes continued to play with clinical patience, and it paid dividends. With Latvia killing off a penalty for too many men on the ice, Eriksson coolly grabbed the rebound from a Mattias Ekholm blast and lifted a backhander over Masalskis’s glove for a 2-0 lead halfway through the game.
The Latvians fought back promptly with Elias Lindholm off for high-sticking. Darzins planted himself in front of the crease and banged in the rebound from a Daugavins one-timer from the right faceoff circle at 12:53.
But the good times didn’t last long for the small Baltic state.
Just 10 seconds later, Forsberg got hauled down on a breakaway and restored the Swedish two-goal gap with the ensuing penalty shot. Going forehand, backhand, forehand, he fooled the sprawling Masalskis and roofed it for his fourth goal of the tournament.
Eriksson thought he’d completed his hat trick with 3:34 left in the second period after converting a nice Forsberg pass from behind the net. But the goal was called back because Lander was caught with a crease violation. (Unfortunately, one fan had already thrown a blue-and-yellow top hat on the ice.)
Eriksson finally earned some headgear when he deflected in Jonas Ahnelov’s drive from the right point with 14 seconds left in the middle frame. That put the game out of reach for the Latvians.
"When we got a few more, we were more comfortable," said Josefson.
At 4:43 of the third period, Moller stretched Sweden's edge to 5-1 with the man advantage when he hustled to the net and put in a rebound during a goal crease scramble.
Josefson made it 6-1 with just over 10 minutes remaining. After being tripped on a breakaway by Koba Jass, Lindholm had a chance for Sweden's seventh goal on a penalty shot. But he couldn't lift it past Masalskis on the blocker side.
Simon Hjalmarsson found Lundqvist heading for the net and his quick release beat Masalskis low to the stick side to make it 7-1 with 2:56 left.
Victor Rask converted a rebound with nine seconds left to round out the scoring.
Sweden will face its stiffest test to date against Canada on Wednesday. Latvia battles Switzerland that day.
"We have four games left," said Daugavins. "We have to focus on the next one and see what happens next."
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