HELSINKI Ė 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.
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"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 didnít 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 Huetís arm at 2:36.
And with that, Slovakia was in the driverís 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 Radivojevicís 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 Franceís Yorick Treille got his team on the board when he redirected Alexandre Rouleauís backhander from mid-air and made it a one-goal game again, just 21 seconds after Slovakiaís 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 goaltenderís 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 Meunierís neutral zone penalty proved costly. Zdeno Chara fired his 150 km/h slapshot and Michal Handzus, blocking Huetís 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 Fleuryís 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 Stťphane da Costa, who quickly moved the puck to the net where it landed on Antoine Rousselís 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 Radivojevicís second goal, and third point in the game. It was also Sekeraís 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.