"I’m so happy for my teammates that we could win this game," said a tearful Baiwei Yu, the Chinese captain. "I’m so proud to be part of Team China."
Japan, despite the loss, goes through to the 2022 Olympic quarter-finals with the single point.
China's playoff hopes are surging too. China secured two or more points for the second straight game and sits third in Group B with five points. The Chinese got their first Olympic home-ice win ever with a 3-1 victory over Denmark, which, like Sweden, remains pointless through two games.
In the first period, the Japanese withstood a strong Chinese push. Coach Yuji Iizuka's players showed their characteristic speed and discipline in the second and third, but China refused to give in. This was a strong, gritty outing for the host nation, which sits 20th in the IIHF Women' s World Ranking, while Japan is sixth.
In regulation time, Baozhen Hu (Maddie Woo) scored her first Olympic goal for China.
For Japan, assistant captain Akane Hosoyamada added her first Olympic goal. The Japanese are aiming to improve on their previous best Olympic finish (sixth in 1998 and 2018).
"It was a high-speed, high-skilled game, back and forth," said Hosoyamada. "We had some chances, they had some chances, and just one more went in for them."
China wraps up its Group B slate with an important game against Sweden on Monday. Japan goes up versus the unbeaten Czechs on Tuesday.
"It will really be a battle, the toughest battle," said Iizuka. "We expect our players to come out hard and clinch first place.”
This was a duel between two top goalies, and China’s Jiaying Zhou got the better of Fujimoto, a three-time Olympian. Japan outshot China 33-30.
"Winning today’s game just means we can play more games, and I just want to be ready for tomorrow’s game [against Sweden]," said Zhou, who stopped all five Japanese shootout attempts she faced. "We’re just trying to think about tomorrow’s game already."
Versus Japan, China came out with an honest, determined effort, putting plenty of pucks on Fujimoto and not making it easy for the Japanese to exit their zone. The Japanese netminder had to be alert when leading Chinese scorer Qiqi Lin (Leah Lum) tipped a drive by top blueliner Yuting Wang (Jessica Wong) on net near the eight-minute mark.
"We knew they were going to come out hard," Hosoyamada said. "They’re definitely a good team and they’ve got some skilled players."
About a minute later, an unfortunate knee-on-knee collision between Chinese assistant captain Mengying Zhang and linemate Beika Li (Rebekah Kolstad) in the Japanese zone left Zhang crumpled on the ice. A stretcher was summoned and Zhang was carried off.
The Chinese responded to their teammate's injury by redoubling their efforts, but Beika Li's woes continued. She was in the box for an illegal hit when Hosoyamada opened the scoring on the power play at 18:02, unleashing a laser wrister that beat Jiaying Zhou high to the stick side, as captain Chiho Osawa provided the screen.
This was the first power play goal the Chinese have conceded at these Olympics, coming on their seventh disadvantage. On the very same sequence, Le Mi took another illegal-hit minor, and Japan went straight back to the woman advantage, although this time it was fruitless.
The Chinese, loaded with veterans from the KRS Vanke Rays of the Russian Women's Hockey League, kept throwing their weight around excessively, as Ni Lin (Rachel Llanes) got penalized for the same infraction in the second period.
Both teams' battle level remained high as the scoreless middle frame wore on, with leaders like Japan's Chiho Osawa and China's Yuting Wang fearlessly blocking shots. The sense of desperation added to the drama.
Just 1:06 into the third period, China knotted the score on a broken play. Beika Li finally got rewarded when her shot deflected off Japanese blueliner Shiori Koike and a kneeling Fujimoto bobbled the puck, enabling Baozhen Hu to pop into it a half-empty net. The Wukesong Sports Centre erupted with joy.
A few minutes later, China narrowly failed to take the lead as a dangerous-looking 3-on-1 rush came to naught. With under 10 minutes left, the Chinese hemmed Japan in its own end for stretches. Still, the Japanese came close to ending it in regulation when Chiho Osawa and Haruna Yoneyama buzzed the Chinese net with just over a minute left.
"I think we just had bad luck there," Hosoyamada said. "The bounces didn’t go our way. I think we’ve gotta just keep playing our game moving forward and hope that luck comes our way."
End-to-end action ensued during overtime with great chances on both sides. For China, Le Mi's net drive carried the puck over the line. She fell into Fujimoto and the naturalized forward's leg then bumped it in. But after a video review, the officials said no goal. Meanwhile, Jiaying Zhou stood tall when Japan's Shiori Koike got a clearcut breakaway with a minute left.
"I know there was probably a goal set for the team [before the tournament], but for myself, I wasn’t thinking about that," said Zhou. "I just wanted to do my best."
The Chinese women are faring better so far than the unified Korean team did in PyeongChang. In 2018, the Koreans were defeated 8-0 by Switzerland, 8-0 by Sweden, and 4-1 by Japan in their first three games.
In their lone previous Olympic meeting, China beat host Japan 6-1 in 11 February 1998 in Nagano. That year, China hit its senior IIHF peak with fourth place. These Asian rivals have split their four Women’s Worlds meetings, with China winning in 2000 (3-0) and 2004 (5-2) and Japan in 2008 (3-1) and 2009 (2-1).