MANNHEIM – With a surprisingly narrow 3-2 win over France on Tuesday, Sweden earned its spot in the Qualification Round. France must defeat Norway on Thursday to have any hope of avoiding the Relegation Round.
Three different Swedes scored, and Linus Omark added a pair of assists. The French rallied with two third-period goals to make it more exciting than expected.
"They played well," Swedish forward Andreas Enqvist said of the French. "They made it hard for us to get to the net. We had the puck a lot and had a lot of scoring chances, but there are definitely things we can improve for the next games."
In a battle of backup goalies, Jacob Markström prevailed in his first-ever World Championship game over Eddy Ferhi, who started the game for France but was replaced by Fabrice Lhenry with under 12 minutes left after being shaken up in a goalmouth collision. Tre Kronor outshot Les Bleus 45-23.
Sweden can wrap up first place in Group C with a win over the Czechs to close out the Preliminary Round on Thursday.
The French came out with a show of grit and determination, skating hard and trying to match the Swedes physically in the early going. They checked well in their zone and collapsed smartly around their net.
That didn't stop Sweden's Carl Gunnarsson from getting credit for the game's first goal with 2:11 left in the opening stanza. During a goal-mouth scramble after a Linus Omark wrap-around, the puck eventually went in off the skate of French forward Erwan Pain.
Sweden's skill took over as the game went on. At 2:34 of the second period, Jonas Andersson waltzed over the French blueline and rocketed a wrister over Ferhi's glove to make it 2-0.
Shortly after a Tre Kronor power play expired, Johan Harju zipped one home from the faceoff circle for a three-goal lead at 7:44.
Markström was rarely tested in the middle frame. He deflected the puck up over the net on a daring Pain rush with about six minutes before the buzzer.
The 20-year-old netminder from Brynäs Gävle made a sweet blocker save on Yohann Auvitu to preserve his team's two-goal lead during a mid-third-period French power play.
At 4:34 of the final period, France's Yorick Treille scored on a slapper from the high slot to make it 3-1, surprising the goalie, as the puck was bouncing.
The French kept coming, and with 5:55 left, Luc Tardif energized his team with a wide, bad-angle shot that sailed over Markström's left shoulder to make it a one-goal game.
"They had two good shots and scored two goals. We had a lot of shots and could have scored more goals," said Engqvist.
French coach Dave Henderson pulled his goalie with 1:23 left in a desperate bid for the equalizer, but effective Swedish checking ensured that wouldn't materialize.
"It’s not easy to play teams that step back and play off your mistakes," said Swedish defenceman Christian Bäckman. "Maybe we felt a little too good after we made it 3-0, but we’re happy we got the points. Everyone expects you to win these games, so it’s nice when you do."
Kevin Hecquefeuille was named France's Player of the Game, and for Sweden, it was Magnus Johansson.
An enthusiastic bloc of French supporters set up shop behind France's net for the first and third periods with a big "Allez Les Bleus!" banner.
The last time France beat Sweden at a World Championship was a 2-1 decision on February 18, 1937.