MANNHEIM – With four third-period goals, Norway dealt France its third straight loss and advanced to the Qualification Round with a resounding 5-1 decision on Thursday. It's the third straight time Norway has avoided the Relegation Round.
The French will kick off Relegation Round action on Saturday versus Italy, whom they sent down to Division I with two straight wins in 2008.
The Norwegians move forward on a high after two straight wins, the first one coming against the favoured Czechs.
"This is something new for us," said Norway's Patrick Thoresen. "We've never won two games in a row in the World Championship, not in the first round, that is. Of course, it gives us confidence."
Thoresen and Mats Zuccarello Aasen set the offensive tone for Norway with a goal and an assist apiece. Norwegian goalie Pal Grotnes got the win versus his counterpart Fabrice Lhenry as Norway outshot France 40-27.
"Now a new tournament begins for us," said Lhenry. "We've got to put this one behind us and get ready to play against Italy."
The Norwegians had the best of the play in the early going. Somehow, Anders Fredriksen and Zuccarello Aasen managed to botch a 2-on-0 rush, as Fredriksen dished across to Zuccarello Aasen, but he held it too long and fired wide. The French hit a post on a wraparound attempt.
The Norwegian fans among the 4,403 at SAP Arena voiced their displeasure when, midway through the first, Martin Laumann Ylven was assessed a five-minute major for checking to the head. They initially thought his target, French defenceman Antonin Manavian, might have embellished the hit. Nonetheless, it was the correct call, and Manavian did not return to action.
French fans had reason to cheer when their team cashed in midway through the five-minute power play. Stéphane Da Costa dipsydoodled his way down the middle and zipped a shot past Grotnes' blocker side at 12:49 for a 1-0 lead. It was France's first power play goal of the 2010 tournament. For the rest of the man advantage, France applied some more good pressure, but was unable to extend its edge.
The teams continued to spar carefully into the second period. Lhenry made a fine save on a Lars Erik Spets rush down left wing. At the other end, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare fired wide on a glorious chance from the slot.
Norway tied it up at 12:02 on a weird play. After a faceoff, the puck sat on the dot with players clustering around it until it finally squirted loose to Peter Lorentzen, who snapped it high past Lhenry.
The Norwegians had a penalty scare late in the period during a clash of assistant captains, when Thoresen high-sticked Vincent Bachet in the face. However, he was only assessed two minutes, and his teammates killed it off.
"After 20 minutes, the French still looked strong, but I thought the jump in their legs died a little bit as the second period went on," said Thoresen.
At 2:34 of the third, Zuccarello Aasen ignited a Norwegian celebration when he took a pass from Thoresen at the top of the right faceoff circle during a power play and zipped a wrister through traffic inside the far post for a 2-1 edge.
Less than five minutes later, Norway made it 3-1 on an extraordinary stroke of bad luck for France. Off a faceoff in the French end, veteran D-man Baptiste Amar drew the puck back and it slid past his own stunned goalie.
Another power play goal, this time by Thoresen at 8:42, put the game out of reach for the offensively limited French side.
"We came out strong in the third period," said Thoresen. "We're a team right now and that's why we're winning games. We're all sacrificing ourselves for one another and playing simple hockey."
With 3:03 left, Mathis Olimb made it 5-1 on a penalty shot goal that mimicked Peter Forsberg's famous gold medal-clinching tally versus Canada's Corey Hirsch at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
Tempers flared in the dying seconds around the Norwegian net, but it was too late to make any difference on the scoreboard. Grotnes, however, was ejected from the game with a major for hitting to the head.
"We're definitely disappointed because we hoped we could beat them and then have the Czechs beat the Swedes," said Lhenry. "But that's not the case."
The last time France played Norway at an IIHF World Championship, it was a 4-3 French win in the Relegation Round on May 7, 1997.