HELSINKI - Slovakia got off to a perfect start in the 2013 IIHF World Championship when they beat France 6-2. Tomas Zaborsky scored one and added an assist, Rastislav Stana made 23 saves for Slovakia.
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"I think we played well for the first game," said Slovak captain Miroslav Satan. "We had a good start, very active with a lot of chances. In the second period, we got some more goals, and I think from that point on we controlled the game."
In the current format in which the top four in each group advance to the quarterfinal, France would have to grab points in games like this one against Slovakia.
"This is a big team in the competition," said France's Vincent Bachet. "They were much stronger than us tonight."
Last year, France still had a chance to grab that fourth spot in their last game against Slovakia.
Last year in Helsinki, Slovakia took a two-goal lead early in the game, but then saw France claw its way back to the game and tie it. Slovakia scored 3-2, France tied the game. Slovakia scored 4-3, France tied the game. And then, with ten minutes remaining in the game, Branko Radivojevic scored the game winner, and France had nothing to show for its good effort.
France has never beaten Slovakia in an World Championship or the Olympics. The goal differential in their five games is 29-12 for Slovakia.
But at least this year, the French players knew that the game wasn’t lost just because Slovakia took an early lead in the game to end the most wonderful shift of the game.
First Cristobal Huet in France’s goal made a fantastic glove save, and sent his team on a counter attack to Slovak zone and then it was Rastislav Stana’s turn to make a beautiful save. The game flowed back towards the French zone, Tomas Zaborsky carried the puck over the blueline, dropped it to Michel Miklik who beat Huet with a snapshot high on the glove side.
In the second period, France had a power play opportunity, and created a couple of good chances early on, but couldn’t capitalize on any of them. And as so often, as soon as Slovakia was back playing on full strength, they scored instead.
Slovakia cycled the puck in the French zone and played it finally to Marek Daloga who took a shot from the faceoff dot. Cristobal Huet made the initial save but his rebound landed at Peter Olvecky’s feet, and he beat Huet with a wrist shot from two meters and gave Slovakia a two-goal lead at 5:27 into the period.
Three minutes later, Slovakia put the final nail in the coffin when Zabrovsky redirected Roman Kukumberg’s hard pass through Huet’s five-hole and made it 3-0 at 8:34.
"For sure, we were maybe a little bit nervous," said France's Charles Bertrand. "We had the same problem last year. I think our guys did the best they can."
Slovakia outshot France 24-15 in the first two periods.
Four minutes into the third period, Huet got beat for the fourth time, this time on powerplay. Last year’s hero Radivojevic slammed it in from Huet’s doorstep, off a nice feed from Tomas Kopecky.
And 50 seconds later, a furious Huet hit the back of the net with his stick, to get out the puck that had stuck there, after Miroslav Satan’s slap shot from the point had beaten Huet, during the second of Brian Henderson’s double-minor for high-sticking.
Slovak defense forgot Damian Raux all alone in front of the net, and Tim Bozon - son of IIHF Hall of Famer Philippe - found him there with a saucer pass. Raux fell to the ice but managed to beat Stana with a backhand.
France’s coach David Henderson also made a goalie change after the the goal, letting Fabrice Lhenry mind the French net for the last 15 minutes of the game.
With 8:02 remaining in the game, Damien Fleury made it 5-2 with a fierce slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle on powerplay.
Slovakia made it 6-2 with 1:03 remaining in the game when Libor Hudacek slammed in a rebound.
Slovakia faces the Finns on Saturday.
"The Finnish team plays in straight lines, and they’re a fast team," said Slovakia's Milan Jurcina. "They go to the net and they’re hard-working. It’s not going to be easy, but we have to find a way."