HELSINKI – Johann Auvitu's goal with 1:17 remaining broke a 1-1 tie and gave France a crucial 2-1 win over Belarus.
The result has implications for three teams. The win gives France a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals if they beat Slovakia in regulation time tomorrow. Belarus has not yet qualified for the top level of the 2013 either, although chances are pretty good it will be there.
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"We wanted to give ourselves a chance for tomorrow's game," said goalie Cristobal Huet, who stopped 21 of 22 shots. "It's not going to be easy, but we wanted to give ourselves a shot at it and that's where we are now."
A win by Kazakhstan tonight over the host Finns would move the Kazakhs into seventh spot and force Belarus to get at least one point from its game against Canada tomorrow to avoid demotion.
"One goal is not enough," said Vladimir Denisov. We lost against France last year, too, and we spoke with the guys yesterday that we have to win. Maybe everybody understood that. Everybody has to push himself."
Auvitu's goal came off a turnover by Belarus in the France end resulting in a three-on-two break. The French played the situation perfectly and Auvitu, the trailer, took a pass in the slot and drilled a great shot over the glove of Dmitri Milchakov.
"We don't play beautiful hockey but it works for a couple of nights," said Auvitu. "Slovakia is an even stronger team, so we have to play even more defensively."
France had the better of the play in the first period and benefitted from the only three power-play opportunities, but it was Belarus that skated off after 20 minutes with the 1-0 lead. That goal came on a nice three-way passing play at 8:15.
Defenceman Dmitri Korobov fed a pass from the point to Alexei Ugarov, charging towards the goal, and Ugarov made a great pass across to the back side of the play where Alexei Kalyuzhny one-timed the puck into the empty side. Huet had no chance on the shot.
The second period proved to be the mirror opposite of the first. This time it was Belarus that got the only three power plays and failed to score, but the only goal of the period came from France on a one-timer.
In this instance, Vincent Bachet passed the puck over to Kévin Hecquefeuille whose quick blast from long range went through a maze of players and over the shoulder of Vitali Koval to make it a 1-1 game with just 2:03 left in the period.
Koval pulled a groin on the play and was forced to leave. It appeared as though he started to move one way, and then reversed his course, doing the splits in awkward fashion in the process. He left the ice slowly and third goalie Dmitri Milchakov came on in relief.
The third period was played cautiously and tentatively by both teams, and as the clock wound down it became clear the next goal would almost certainly be the game winner. It was, and France lives to play another day.