In a wild affair, France rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to defeat Norway 5-4 on Saturday. Stephane Da Costa scored the shootout winner.
Da Costa beat Norway's Lars Haugen with a deft backhand deke inside the netminder's right post and raised his arms to the sky in triumph. It was the team-leading fourth goal of the tournament for the Ottawa Senators veteran.
"Every time someone had a lead the other team found a way to score and get back into it," said Da Costa. "But we got the win at the end."
It was an important battle in the Group A quarter-finals race, with two evenly matched teams going at it hard. Both France and Norway have seven points apiece now.
"This is our national holiday, and we played to win, but unfortunately we didn't get the result we wanted today," said Norway's Per-Age Skroder.
Group-leading Sweden and second-place Canada can’t be caught in the standings, so there are just two quarter-final berths up for grabs now.
Antoine Roussel potted a pair and added an assist for France, while Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had a goal and a pair of helpers. Yorick Treille also scored for France.
Mathis Olimb had a goal and two assists, while his brother Ken Andre Olimb chipped in three helpers. Mats Trygg, Morten Ask and Daniel Sorvik had the other goals for Norway.
The French have shown a striking ability to come back in this tournament. They also memorably overcame a 3-1 gap against Slovakia, scoring four unanswered goals in the third period to triumph.
Veteran goalie Cristobal Huet returned between the pipes for France after Florian Hardy’s 2-1 loss against Sweden. France outshot Norway 36-28.
"I thought we controlled the game until there were five minutes left in the second period," said Norwegian coach Roy Johansen regretfully.
Norway’s two remaining group games are against the Czechs on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday. The French have a slightly easier road, facing Denmark on Monday and finishing up against the Czechs on Tuesday.
"The extra point was huge for us in order to make the quarter-finals," said Stephane Da Costa. "Now we have two big games coming up, and we've got a nice day off to relax and recharge and recover before that."
France ran into penalty trouble in the opening stanza, giving Norway three power play opportunities, and was fortunate to be down just 1-0 after 20 minutes.
At 11:28, Trygg opened the scoring for Norway, accepting a deft Mathis Olimb pass from the left side boards and snapping a high shot past Huet’s stick from the left faceoff circle. It was the 37-year-old blueliner’s second goal of the tournament.
Norway jumped into a 2-0 lead on a strange play at 1:47 of the second period. Again it was Mathis Olimb getting the main assist, moving the puck to Ask, who was checked by Damien Fleury en route to the net, but the disc continued its forward motion past Huet’s left pad.
"We felt the second Norwegian goal was a little bit iffy," Da Costa opined. "We thought they pushed our goalie, but there's wasn't a video review or anything like that."
The French tried to rally, storming Haugen’s crease, but Antoine Roussel couldn’t get the puck past Haugen’s left skate with either his stick or skate.
Les Bleus finally broke through with 2:35 left in the second period, as Roussel jammed a rebound from an Anthony Manavian blast past Haugen’s right skate, yelling at the goalie afterwards to compound the indignity.
It only took another 26 seconds for the French to tie it up. Treille went to the front of the net and deflected Yohanne Auvitu’s fluttering center point shot past Haugen. The play was subjected to a lengthy video review and the goal was ruled good.
At 18:16, just 25 seconds later, Roussel put France up 3-2 when he went to the front of the net and tipped Stephane Da Costa’s shot through the Norwegian goalie.
"It was a good lesson for our team," said French coach Dave Henderson. "We need to play the whole game like we did the second period."
The wild times continued in the third period.
Norway refused to quit. Just 1:30 into the third, Sorvik’s slapper from the right point squeezed past Huet’s right side to make it 3-3. It was Sorvik’s first World Championship goal, and his teammates made sure he got the puck.
The French were equally resilient. Bellemare swooped right back into the Norwegian zone and sniped one right over Haugen’s glove at 2:37 to restore France’s one-goal lead.
The Olimb brothers had more magic left in their sticks. Racing down, Ken Andre deked his way to the net before slipping the puck left to Mathis, who fired it into the gaping cage with his trademark big smile to make it 4-4 at 5:48.
Moments later, Mathis also prevented a goal when he darted behind Haugen to sweep away a puck that had squeezed through him.
Both Norway's Olimb line and France's Roussel line were buzzing in the dying moments of regulation, but neither could hit the target, setting the stage for overtime. That settled nothing, although the French came awfully close just before the buzzer.
"The whole tournament, we've played well," said Da Costa. "We didn't find a way to win over Italy and Sweden, but still, I feel that we played pretty well."