"We're a pretty small hockey country, so there are only a couple of teams we feel we're better than on paper," said Danish assistant captain Jesper Jensen Aabo. "This is one of the games we felt we had to win. I'm happy we did. Now we still have a chance to go to the quarter-finals, so that's a great feeling."
Danish starting goalie Sebastian Dahm conjured up his first shutout of this tournament while facing French netminder Henri Corentin Buysse. It is Dahm's fourth career Worlds shutout, and the Danish men’s senior national team has eight shutouts all-time at the top-level World Championship. Coach Heinz Ehlers' boys outshot France 30-19.
"He's a great goalie, and he's been here for a while," said Jensen Aabo. "I'm not surprised, but we also have a pretty good defensive system, so we try not to give up a lot of good chances."
For Denmark, it was a good bounceback from a 1-0 loss to Germany on Thursday. Captain Peter Regin and Joachim Blichfeld scored goals. Workhorse defenceman Markus Lauridsen, who has picked up his game in the absence of his injured brother Oliver, chipped in a pair of assists, as did Frederik Storm.
This storybook still has more chapters to write. Each of these nations has two tough games remaining, and unfortunately, they can’t just wave a magic wand and collect six points.
Denmark faces Canada on Monday and Slovakia on Tuesday. France battles Switzerland on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.
French veteran Sacha Treille took a realistic outlook: "Our first goal was to maintain our position in the top division, and we did that after four games. Now we have less pressure and we'll try to get as many points as we can from our next two games. But today was also a disappointment, because if we had won we could have still competed for the quarter-finals."
One lingering area of concern for Denmark is that they've had trouble producing offensively after demolishing Kazakhstan 9-1 in their opener. In fact, they've scored just five goals in the four games since then. So that still needs improvement as the playoffs loom.
A few minutes from the Helsinki Ice Hall, the Finnish National Ballet and Opera is staging Swan Lake this month. For comparable grace and artistry, Regin’s opening goal at 16:43 fit the bill.
Off a faceoff in the Danish end, Markus Lauridsen skimmed a long pass to Storm. Heads-up, he stickhandled inside the French zone and then fed the puck right over to Regin, who outwitted Buysse with a perfect shot high to the glove side.
In the second period, Blichfeld stretched Denmark’s lead to 2-0 on the game's first power play. The slick forward from the AHL's San Jose Barracuda took a short wind-up and blew a slapper through Buysse with traffic in front for his team-leading fourth goal of these Worlds. Blichfeld had not scored since starting off with a hat trick against Kazakhstan.
France showed signs of frustration. In front of the French bench, Kevin Bozon got into a scuffle with Nikolaj Ehlers, yanking the Winnipeg Jets star's helmet off, and took a roughing minor. However, Ehlers nullified the end of the impotent Danish man advantage when he was nabbed for hooking.
Although the Danes carried the play in the second period, outshooting France 12-7, Dahm was alert when called upon, including stopping Dylan Fabre in tight on a quick break set up by Kevin Bozon.
"With a good goalie we need to get more traffic in front," Treille said. "We have to get the puck to the net more if we want to be successful. It's tough to beat goalies at this level with a clear shot."
The teams continued trading ineffective power plays in the third period. Pierre Crinon's mid-period cross-check by the side of the French net on Blichfeld, which looked more serious initially than it actually was, was video-reviewed, and the 195-cm, 104-kg Grenoble defenceman was assessed a minor.
Buysse was pulled for the extra attacker in the dying stages, but Jakobsen got loose to beat out an icing and tucked the puck in at 18:24 to round out the scoring.
"What matters most is that we get the three points," said Denmark's Emil Kristensen. "We can be happy with that, but we still have things to work on if we hope to make the quarter-finals. Now we're scoring on our power play, which is good. We were good with that against the Kazakhs, but since then we're had trouble scoring. Today was an improvement, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going for the next two games."
This was just the third all-time meeting between Denmark and France in World Championship history.
On 19 May 2014, Stephane da Costa led the way with two goals and two assists as France thumped Denmark 6-2 in Minsk. On 11 May 2019, Storm scored the shootout winner in Denmark's 5-4 victory in Kosice.