However, there was little difficulty in brushing aside Kazakhstan in front of a lively home crowd in Riga. Late in the first period, goals from Roberts Bukarts and Oskars Batna put the host in control. Martins Dzierkals added a third at the start of the middle frame, and Rodrigo Abols made it 4-0 at the midway stage.
Miks Indrasis potted number five just before the second intermission, keeping the party lively for the home team and leaving the Kazakhs focused on damage limitation. Nikita Boyarkin replaced Andrei Shutov in goal for the final stanza, but could do little to prevent Kaspars Daugavins and Abols again making the final score 7-0. At the other end, Arturs Silovs made 16 saves for his shut-out.
Kazakh defenseman Tamirlan Gaitamirov was furious with his team’s performance. “I’ve nothing to say. This was one of our worst games,” he fumed. “We’ve got one more game to play and we need to make up for this one. This was not acceptable.
“We just have to be better, it can’t be like this.”
For Latvia, Rihards Bukarts was happy with the electric atmosphere in the arena, and also with his team’s on-going push for a quarter-final spot.
“I think we kept improving during the tournament,” he said. “We watched some video on what we’re good at, we tried to put away what we’re not good at. I think our defensemen played a really good game and the result shows.”
Despite tonight’s loss, Kazakhstan is all but certain of remaining in the top division for next season. Survival could be confirmed tomorrow if Slovenia loses against Slovakia. If the Slovenes get their first points, Kazakhstan can still ensure safety by taking at least a point from Slovenia on Monday.
In Tampere, former Ak Bars man Par Lindholm gave Sweden the lead inside two minutes to spearhead a comfortable victory for the Tre Kronor against France. In the first period, the Swedes had four goals from seven shots to take complete control of the game. Fabian Zetterlund potted two, with Jonatan Berggren also on target.
After that fast start, the Swedes relaxed in the latter stages but still secured a 4-0 verdict. Lars Johansson recorded his third win and second shut-out of the tournament, standing behind the best defense on display in the competition to date.
“It's good to get the win, and obviously, for myself, also getting a shutout is nice,” said the 2019 Gagarin Cup winner. “I think we played a decent game and it was a comfortable win.”
In Saturday’s other action, Switzerland maintained its perfect start with a 3-2 win over Canada. Andres Ambuhl, the all-time record-holder for World Championship appearances, got the winning goal. Team USA also improved to 5-and-0 in the tournament after defeating Denmark 3-0. Cutter Gauthier’s power play goal midway through the third period broke the deadlock while Casey DeSmith secured the Americans’ first shut-out of the competition.
Finland recorded a third successive victory, but had to work hard to overcome Austria with a 3-1 verdict. Mikko Lehtonen was among the Finnish goals. And the Czech Republic got a 2-0 verdict over Norway on goals from Jakub Flek and Dominik Kubalik.
Main photo: Eurasia Sport Images / Getty Sport / GettyImages.ru