It wasn’t particularly glamorous, but Russia scored in each period to beat hard-working France, reaching the semi-finals at the 2014 IIHF World Championship.
"It was a tough game, just like we expected," said Russia's Head Coach Oleg Znarok. "France has evolved a lot in the last couple of years."
In the semi-final, Russia will face the winner of tonight’s late game, Sweden – Belarus.
For the first time in this year's tournament, Russia had both Yevgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin in their line-up, although the star duo was cast on different lines. Malkin played with Viktor Tikhonov and Nikolai Kulyomin, while Ovechkin skated with Sergei Plotnikov and Vadim Shipachyov.
Malkin had one power-play goal in the game and added an assist.
"I felt much better today, I had the time to get acclimated," said Russia's Yevgeni Malkin. "Kulyomin and I have played with each other a lot before and I know how to play with him. It's very comfortable for me on the line with Kolya (Kulyomin) and Tikhonov. It was a good win but we could have played better and been more effective"
Ovechkin, skating with a brace after missing the last game, was held scoreless.
"Of course it was a bit awkward to skate in the brace," said Ovechkin. "But I think I'll play without it the next game and everything will be okay. I wasn't risking anything, I knew the brace would protect me in case of a collision. That's what happened in the first period and I immediately knew that the leg is reacting well. I was about 90 percent ready. And I didn't take any pain killers at all."
Artyom Anisimov and Alexander Kutuzov also scored for Russia, both with their first goals of the tournament, and Sergei Bobrovski saved 16 shots to earn the shutout.
France struggled to generate offence throughout the game, as Russia effectively closed them down and kept chances for France's feared first line of Antoine Roussel, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Stephane da Costa at a minimum.
"Russia is a great team and they did not take us for granted," said Bellemare. "They played against us like they would a bigger hockey nation. We weren't able to get many two on ones or three on twos. It was hard for us to create offensive chances. We ran out of juice when we started playing shorthanded. A couple of years ago we would have lost that game 8-2. Our goalie kept us in the game."
France's final ranking at the tournament will be seventh or eighth, depending on how Finland fares against Canada.
France’s goaltender Cristobal Huet was forced into action right away as Russia put the pressure on in the early going. And only four minutes in, Artyom Anisimov gave Russia the lead as he neatly stickhandled around France’s Nicolas Ritz before he fired a wrist shot past Huet.
After the goal, Russia's pressure subsided as France evened out play, but ten minutes in, France’s Yorick Treille was called for roughing and Russia went to work on their power play. Russia’s first unit, featuring both Malkin and Ovechkin, could not solve Huet this time.
With time winding down in the first, Russia got another chance to play with the man advantage. The penalty carried over into the second period and 52 seconds in, a couple of nice passes set the stage for Malkin to walk in along the extended goal line, quickly deking Huet before putting the puck in the net. Nikolai Kulyomin and Viktor Tikhonov had the helpers.
"The goal was fluky and nice at the same time," Malkin explained. "I wanted to carry the puck in around the goalie. It was luck that the puck hit the outside of the net and rebounded right into the crease, where all I had to do was to extend my stick and tap it in."
Five minutes in into the second, Russia had a 54 second two-man advantage to make it 3-0, but France killed off the penalties to stay in the game.
France had two chances of their own with the man advantage in the middle round, but both times the most dangerous chances was for Russia. Sergei Shirokov and Yevgeni Dadonov got chances on the breakaway, but Huet made two agile and timely saves.
Halfway through the second, Yohann Auvitu had a dangerous slapshot that Bobrovski saved with the top of his shoulder. That was France’s first shot on goal in the period. They finished the period with only four shots.
Eight minutes into the third, Russia put the game out of reach. After some cycling down low, Yevgeni Malkin found Alexander Kutuzov skating towards the net. Kutuzov one-timed a hard slapshot that hit Huet before going into the net to make it 3-0 Russia.
"This is not disappointing," said Stephane da Costa of France's loss. "We came out and played the best we could but ran out of juice. We played hard every game. We had a good tournament I don't think we should be too hard on ourselves.
The second half of the first we had our chances. A few bad bounces but it's the game. They are a good team but we showed ourselves pretty well."
France and Russia have faced each other seven times at the IIHF World Championship. Russia has won on six occasions. France’s only win, 2-1, came in last year’s tournament in Stockholm.
After the game, France's three best players of the tournament were named. The entire first line - da Costa, Bellemare and Roussel - were given the honours.
"We have the heart. I think the biggest heart in the tournament. 25 guys work hard for the same goal you are able to succeed," said Bellemare of his team's achievement. "This was a great way to highlight French hockey with as far as we came in this tournament."