MORNING SKATE: Lines, news and notes vs. Latvia

Canada's Drew Doughty (C) celebrates his goal on Finland with teammates during the first period of...

Canada's Drew Doughty (C) celebrates his goal on Finland with teammates during the first period of their men's preliminary round ice hockey game at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games February 16, 2014. (REUTERS)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 5:43 AM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - It may be Mike Babcock’s most challenging task before puck drop in Wednesday’s Olympic quarterfinal: Convincing his players that skating past Latvia isn’t the lock of the tournament.

In reality, however, it may be just that for Team Canada.

Babcock’s team may have got the break that leads them to an even better shot at gold late Tuesday night when Latvia stunned Switzerland 3-1.

Suddenly, the path to the semifinal is considerably easier than it would have been with a date with the defensively stifling Swiss. Suddenly, the Canadians have an opportunity to cruise through to the next round and build some momentum in the process.

“They’re better as a sum than they are as parts,” Babcock said following Team Canada’s game-day skate, not meaning to be critical but essentially summarizing what awaits tonight.

The Latvians are a ratty but persistent group under coach Ted Nolan. They are big and can hit but beyond the few players with NHL experience are generally a poor skating team.

And in terms of skill, they are not even on the same planet.

Factor in the fatigue and emotional high from the upset the previous night and the Latvians, who have never gotten this far in an Olympic tournament, have no chance.

Oddsmakers agree, setting the defending Olympic champions as the 3 1/2-goal favourite in a game that could get ugly if the frustrated Canadian forwards break out for the first time in the Games. In their four previous meetings with Latvia, Canada has won all four by a combined score of 28-4. And each of those meetings were at the world championships.

“The Olympic Games, anything can happen,” Babcock said, perhaps trying to convince himself so he could convince his players of the same. “We have to be ready to go here today. Obviously, there’s a lot at stake for us and we understand that. And it will be a hard game, just like every other game.”

If Canada does the expected and cruises, they will face the winner of the U.S.-Czech Republic. Both games start at 9 p.m. here in Sochi, noon Eastern.

NEWS AND NOTES

SUBBAN SITS

-As expected, Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban will be a scratch for the third time in the tournament. Forward Marty St. Louis draws in for Matt Duchene.Babcock on Subban: “He won the Norris Trophy. He’s a proud guy. And he’s here and he doesn’t get to dress. Nobody is probably thrilled about that. Those are hard decisions that we make and in the end they’ve got to live it.” St. Louis on his role: “It's a place where a lot of us probably are not in the position many times, but it's a situation that you fully understand it's a possibility you might be in, in these tournaments. You're trying to go out there and earn another shift, I guess.”

SUPER-HERO GOALIE

Obviously the Canadian players paid close attention to the Latvia-Switzerland elimination game, one in which goaltender Edgars Masalskis stood on his head at times to preserve the win. Like many of the Latvian players, he looked totally spent during the third period and post-game in the interview area. Part of the Canadian strategy tonight, then, will be to wear him and his teammates down. “If you watched the game last night (Maslskis) likes to challenge shooters either at the top of his crease or even further,” Canadian forward Jeff Carter said. “So try and keep him back in his net and also pop out for a shot there.”

GAME 7 EXPERIENCED

Tonight’s contest marks the beginning of what could feel like three consecutive Game 7 contests for Team Canada, should they make it to Sunday’s gold-medal contest. That’s the pressure of the Olympic tournament when it reaches the knockout stage.

Fortunately, the Canadian lineup is deep with players who have long and accomplished Stanley Cup playoff resumes. “It’s a big game for us, but we don’t want to put pressure on ourselves.” said Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, who will play on a line with Pittsburgh Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz. “We’ve all played in big games over the course of our careers and it will be the same thing tonight.”

YOUR STARTERS

Here’s a look at the projected forward lines and defensive pairings for the quarterfinal. Carey Price gets the call in net with Roberto Luongo backing up.

Forwards

  • Chris Kunitz-Sidney Crosby-Patrice Bergeron.
  • Patrick Marleau-Jonathan Toews-Jeff Carter.
  • Jamie Benn-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry.
  • Patrick Sharp-John Tavares-Rick Nash
  • (Extra, Marty St. Louis)

Defence

  • Duncan Keith-Shea Weber
  • Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Drew Doughty
  • Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo.
  • (Extra, Dan Hamhuis)

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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