The first game of a busy World Championship program in Slovakia saw Russia come from behind to beat Latvia. The 3-1 scoreline ended Latvia’s hopes of making the last eight, while Russia is still undefeated in five games. The Russians are now three points clear at the top of Group B after Switzerland’s 100% start came to an end at the hands of Sweden.

Latvia 1 Russia 3 (1-0, 0-3, 0-0)

Latvia became the first team to take the lead against Russia in Bratislava – but Baltic dreams of a quarter-final berth were squashed as Russia recovered to win 3-1. The result keeps Russia out in front in Group B with a 100% record from five games. Latvia, though, is left on one win from five and cannot now finish in the top four and progress to the knock-out phase.

Photo: 18.05.19. 2019 IIHF World Championship. Latvia - Russia

Russia hadn’t allowed a goal since late in the opening fixture with Norway. But that shut-out streak came to an end when Latvia took the lead midway through the first period. Miks Indrasis moved through the zone and set up Oskars Cibulskis for a one-timer from the right-hand dot. Vasilevsky seemed slow to get into position and was beaten on the glove side; Russia trailed for the first time in the tournament.

Latvia held its lead to the intermission, but not for long afterwards. Dmitry Orlov hit a slap shot from the left point, Elvis Merzlikins had a poor view of the moment of release and was beaten over his shoulder. Prior to the game, Merzlikins had lamented his team’s defensive lapses against the Czechs: “We’re not Russia, we don’t score six in a game,” he said. “We’re Latvia, we might score two or three and then we have to defend well.”

Part of Latvia’s problem, particularly in that game against the Czechs, was staying out of the box. And the same issue cost Bob Hartley’s team here. A penalty on Arturs Kulda put the pressure on and the result was a goal that evoked memories of SKA’s 2017 Gagarin Cup triumph. Evgeny Dadonov collected the rebound from a Nikita Kucherov point shot and steered the puck to the post where Gusev was waiting to shoot home. Kucherov then added a third midway through the middle frame to give Russia some breathing space and push Latvia to the brink of elimination from this year’s championship.

Gusev said: “We should have started better, but it is what it is. We knew what Latvia would try to do, we knew they would be aggressive. Basically, I felt we dealt well with that.

“My goal was all down to Zhenya Dadonov. He gave a great pass and all I had to do was put it in the net.”

Guntis Galvins admitted afterwards: “We could have done better in the second period, but there’s a reason why Russia is the favorite to win this tournament and we saw that. They just didn’t let us back into the game.”

For Russia, meanwhile, another victory means thoughts turn quickly to tomorrow’s game against Switzerland. The winner of that one is likely to top the group, giving it a weaker opponent in the last eight.

Team captain Ilya Kovalchuk was not worried about permutations, nor the increased difficulty as opponents like Italy and Austria make way for Switzerland and Sweden, last year’s finalists. “Right now, it doesn’t matter to us who we play,” he said. “We know perfectly well that there are only a couple of games left before we are playing for the medals. Now we just want to play as well as possible in the next two games, so we go into the playoffs in the best condition.”

Swiss beaten, Sweden looking good

Sweden 4 Switzerland 3 (1-1, 2-1, 1-1)

Russia’s next two opponents went head-to-head in Bratislava and served up perhaps the most entertaining game of the tournament so far. The Swedes eventually ended Switzerland’s unbeaten run thanks to a goal eight minutes from the end from captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but this was a game that could have gone either way.

Photo: 18.05.19. 2019 IIHF World Championship. Sweden - Switzerland

The Swiss took an early lead through Sven Andrighetto but allowed Sweden to level late in the opening frame when Alexander Wennberg deflected a John Klingberg shot past Reto Berra. The defending champion forged ahead in the middle session on goals from William Nylander and Erik Gustafsson – with a goal and two assists, Nylander moved to 13 points and overtook Nikita Kucherov as the tournament’s leading scorer. In the third, Switzerland tied it up midway through thanks to a goal from Gaeten Haas but Ekman-Larsson soon responded with the game winner.

Switzerland has little time to recover – Russia is next on Sunday evening. Forward Kevin Fiala is expecting another tough test.

“I think Russia is even better than Sweden,” he said. “It’s going to be a fast game, probably even faster than tonight. We’re gonna have to eliminate those offensive players they have, for sure, and take our chances. If we can do that, we’ll be fine.”

Slovakia powered to a 7-1 win over Great Britain to keep its quarter-final hopes alive. Slovan’s David Bondra and Dynamo Moscow’s Michal Cajkovsky were among the Slovak scorer. GB looks to be facing a must-win showdown with France in its final game to secure top division status.

Saturday’s other early game in Kosice saw the USA hand a 7-1 hammering to Denmark. Jack Hughes, many people’s tip to be #1 pick in the NHL draft, got his first point of the tournament with an assist on Chris Kreider’s goal late in the first period.

In the afternoon, Italy scored its first goal of the tournament. Angelo Miceli’s effort early in the third period pulled its game with Norway back to 2-1, but the Norwegians finished strongly to record a 7-1 win. That result secures the country’s place in the Elite Pool. In Kosice, Canada thrashed Germany 8-1.

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