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Slovakia clinches QF berth

Radivojevic scores twice in third, sends Slovakia to final round

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Tomas Kopecky celebrates a first period goal and Slovakia's quarter-final berth. Photo: Jeff Vinnick / HHOF-IIHF Images

HELSINKI – France needed a win in regulation time to clinch a spot in the quarter-finals. Slovakia just needed a point. It was a hard fought game, and in the end Slovakia got what it wanted, a 5-4 win, the points, and a spot in the quarter-finals.

Branko Radivojevic scored two and added an assist, Andrej Sekera collected three points in the game.

Click here for a video with post-game comments.

"The pressure's off now. We achieved our two goals: getting to the Olympics and making the quarter-finals here," Radivojevic said.

"When we're the favorites, we get a little nervous but we found a way to win, and that's great," he added.

There was one thing that the French didn’t want to see happen, but it happened: Slovakia opened the scoring just two and a half minutes into the game. Milan Bartovic carried the puck into the French zone and took a slapshot from the top of the left faceoff circle, and the puck slipped in under Cristobal Huet’s arm at 2:36.

And with that, Slovakia was in the driver’s seat.

"We were really nervous. We didn't expect France still to be in the hunt when we looked at the schedule at the start of the tournament. We thought it would be one of our easier games, but it wasn't," said Miroslav Satan.

But if somebody doubted Huet in the French net, he proved them wrong with a big save a few minutes later, robbing Slovakia of a great 2-on-1 chance in the next shift.

Tomas Kopecky made it 2-0 when he grabbed Branko Radivojevic’s rebound and shot the puck in at 6:50.

Both teams had a player in the penalty box and the game continued 4-on-4, and France’s Yorick Treille got his team on the board when he redirected Alexandre Rouleau’s backhander from mid-air and made it a one-goal game again, just 21 seconds after Slovakia’s 2-0 goal.

With exactly five minutes remaining in the first period, Teddy da Costa brought the resilient French team back into the game when he intercepted a pass at the Slovak blueline, and then mostly willed his way around a Slovak defenceman, and beat Laco with a low shot that found its way through the Slovakia goaltender’s five-hole.

"We had a chance to win it, and it was a pretty good game. We had a pretty good ride, and we can be proud of what we did here," said France's Nicolas Besch.

In the second period, it was France, who created the best chances but Laurent Meunier’s neutral zone penalty proved costly. Zdeno Chara fired his 150 km/h slapshot and Michal Handzus, blocking Huet’s view, deflected the puck in and gave Slovakia the lead in the game at 15:26 into the second period.

With 40 seconds to go in the period, Meunier sent a no-look pass from the corner to the slot, and Damien Fleury’s one-timer beat Jan Laco, and tied the game, 3-3.

Slovakia played a smart game and capitalized on the chances it got. Miscommunication between two French players on their offensive blueline gave Branko Radivojevic a clear lane to drive to the French net. He beat Huet high on the glove side from close range and Slovakia had the lead again, for the third time in the game.

And for the third time in the game, France came back to tie it. Brian Henderson won a puck battle behind the net, and got the puck to Stéphane da Costa, who quickly moved the puck to the net where it landed on Antoine Roussel’s blade, and Roussel tied it at 5:17 into the third period.

"We always thought we had them every time we scored, but they always came back. It was frustrating," Slovakia's Tomas Tatar said.

Halfway through the period the Slovak power play unit got its chance. Andrej Sekera, on the point, passed the puck to Radivojevic who sent a hard wrist shot to the net, and the puck found its way into the French goal at 10:27.

"Handzus did a great job in front of the net, and he always told me to shoot high so I did. The goalie didn't see anything," said Radivojevic.

It was Radivojevic’s second goal, and third point in the game. It was also Sekera’s third point in the game, and the duo leads Slovakia in scoring in the tournament with seven points.

More important than that, though, were the three points that Slovakia took, which gave it the fourth quarter-final spot in the Helsinki group.

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