Canada not shaken by Latvia scare

SOCHI, Russia -- Sidney Crosby has a pretty good grasp of what hockey means in his native country.

No better example than the coast-to-coast party he ignited four years ago with his Golden Goal.

On the flip side, the Team Canada superstar has an idea of how folks back home in Cole Harbor, Nova Scotia, were feeling with Latvia holding Canada to a 1-1 tie in the third period of their Olympic quarterfinal.

"Probably a little tense; a lot of people screaming at the TV, I'm sure," Crosby said after Canada pulled out the 2-1 heart-stopper over unheralded Latvia. "It was tough. We had some great chances, and when you're getting chances like that, there's not a lot you would change. It's not like you're going in there, adjusting and trying to figure something out. I think it's just the ultimate test of your patience when you're getting chances like that. You need to find a way to score."

Scoring, the last little detail in Canada's game that remains somewhat elusive before a date with red-hot Team USA in the Olympic semifinals.

"We play a U.S. team that seems to score real easy," Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock said. "We haven't scored real easy. But we'll be ready to play."

Never before has an unbeaten semifinal team given a country so much heartache.

Shea Weber's blast at 13:06 of the third period avoided the kind of national self-loathing that would have been the talk for years and years.

Phew. Everyone breathe. No Belarus-Sweden shocker circa 2002 here, folks. Move along. All good. Nothing to see here.

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Latvia's Kristers Gudlevskis made 55 saves against Canada in the quarterfinals.

"I wasn't worried," Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price said. "We're a confident group and we just wanted to stick to our guns and keep doing what we were doing."

Most of the time, I wouldn't believe an athlete when he said that he wasn't worried about being tied with Latvia in the third period of an Olympic quarterfinal.

But from Price to every other Canadian player we spoke to Wednesday night, there's a genuine confidence that remained apparent despite the exact opposite emotion running rampant back home.

At this point, these guys will either know just when to turn it on come Friday night when the tournament gets harder for Team Canada, or they'll have no idea what's about to hit them.

When asked about the nervous folks back home, star blueliner Duncan Keith could not have looked or sounded more relaxed in his answer.

"They were nervous during the Finland game too," he said. "That's just the way it is. They're close games. The way this ice surface is, it's just defend, defend, defend. What do you do? You try to get pucks at the net, you try to beat your guy off the wall and go to the net. We were able to score two one-timer goals off quick plays. We're trying. It's going to be our biggest test next game."

Part of the conundrum in handicapping Team Canada's performance in these Olympics is that the schedule-makers have done them absolutely no favors. With three of their four games against Norway, Austria and Latvia, it's hardly the kind of competition that gets a team playing at its highest possible level going into the semifinals -- their solid win over fellow semifinalist Finland notwithstanding.

Had you told those nervous souls back home before the Latvia game that Team Canada would have 57 shots on goal, they likely would have been appeased. But not when you told them the final score.

"Did I want to win 7-1? Absolutely," Babcock said. "Do I think it's better for my team that we won the way we did? For sure."

Babcock was happy his team got a dose of adversity before facing Team USA. He liked the way his players stayed poised when the game was still 1-1 and Latvia was trying to pull off the biggest Olympic upset since Belarus over Sweden.

In a perfect world, though, Team Canada needed two things before the semifinals: to score some goals with ease and to face some adversity. It wasn't going to get both in one game.

So yes, Team Canada showed steely nerves in not falling apart and forcing things against Latvia when the pressure was on. Big time.

But in the meantime, it still enters the semifinals with its offensive difficulties unanswered.

Two defensemen, Weber and Drew Doughty, have scored seven of the teams' 13 goals.

Crosby remains without a goal, something that can't continue for much longer if Canada wants to repeat as gold medalist. But Crosby is not alone. Jonathan Toews, Corey Perry and Rick Nash are among other high-profile forwards used to filling the net who still have a doughnut.

Can you get by without goals from so many forwards?

"I would say not, but I think we're doing a lot of good things," Crosby said. "Honestly, if we're talking about that, I don't know what we'd go back and change. You look at tonight, and besides picking the puck up and throwing it in the net, what could you tell someone to do in those situations? I think you just trust in what you do. I think as far as the depth that we have, we know that guys are going to put those in. It's nice to get that from the D, that's for sure."

Crosby had some good looks on this night, a clear breakaway chance and a couple of other close calls. He looked confident and was around the net. But still no goal.

The Penguins captain saved his best for last in Vancouver four years ago. If he has a big performance Friday night against Team USA, people won't even remember this discussion after four games.

Babcock feels it's almost there for his forward group. They launched an absolute assault on Latvian netminder Kristers Gudlevskis on Wednesday night but put only two pucks past him on 57 shots.

Surely the breaks will start to go their way?

"I think we're doing a good job," Babcock said. "I think we're getting better each and every game. We had good looks today."

Babcock wanted more second chances, more traffic in front of the net. He got that.

"Yeah, we did things the coaches asked us to do," Weber said. "We got pucks to the net. Like we talked about at the start, we just want to get better every game and now we've got to get better and play the U.S."

Is Team Canada fooling itself? Or is this all part of the plan?

We'll find out Friday night.

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