Olympics-Ice hockey-Nervy Canada make semis after Latvia fright

Reuters

* United States up next for Canada

* Price praises Latvian netminder (Adds quotes, detail)

By Steve Keating

SOCHI, Russia Feb 19 (Reuters) - Canada escaped with a nervy 2-1 quarter-final win over Latvia in the Olympic men's ice hockey tournament on Wednesday to keep their gold medal defence on track.

Despite dominating play and outshooting the plucky Latvians 57-16, Canada needed a late goal from Shea Weber to move into the semi-finals, where they will take on the United States in a rematch of the 2010 Vancouver Games gold medal game.

After trading goals in the opening period, Canada threw everything at Latvia but could not find the winner until Weber blasted a low slap-shot past netminder Kristers Gudlevskis with just under seven minutes to play.

"We did a great job, we tried. We left all our strength out there," said Gudlevskis. "There is not enough. It was exciting and hard."

"This is the highest level we are going to play. This is even a higher level than NHL and if you can play here, you can play everywhere.

"It really means a lot for me."

Seeded 11th in the 12-nation field and winless through preliminary-round play, the Latvians were not expected to present a threat to Canada's title defence.

But with the Bolshoy Ice Dome still buzzing after Russia's quarter-final loss to Finland, Canada needed all their skill and a dash good fortune to avoid joining the hosts at the exit.

"We just had to try to stay even-keeled," said Weber. "We just tried to get a lot of pucks to the net.

"We knew their goal-tending and defence is very good and we found a way to get to the back of the net.

"You're going to run into adversity; there's tough teams in this tournament and there's games that might not go the way you want them to."

Canada took a 1-0 lead with a goal from Patrick Sharp but despite dominating the action had to settle for a 1-1 draw when Lauris Darzins netted his fourth of the Games for Latvia just before the end of the opening period.

It was more of the same in the second as Canada again controlled the game, out-shooting Latvia 19-5, but could not get a puck past the spectacular Gudlevskis.

Even Canadian netminder Carey Price was impressed by the young goalkeeper's work.

"That was one of the best goaltending efforts I think I've ever seen," Price said. "That was one heck of an effort." (Editing by Ed Osmond)

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