Ukraine, meanwhile, saw its hopes of winning the tournament end here. After a shoot-out loss to Poland on Thursday, only a regulation-time success would give Vadym Shakhraichuk’s team a chance of snatching top spot if results went its way on Sunday. However, the pace of the Japanese offence proved too much to handle; Ukraine allowed six goals on 19 shots in the first 40 minutes.
With at least seven goals in each of its three games to date, Japan does not lack for confidence. The speed of its forwards has tormented defences all week - something that forward Yuki Miura is enjoying.
"That speed is one of the biggest strengths of our team," he said. "We use our speed, we always move our feet and play 200 feet on both sides of the puck. It works really well so far, we’ve scored seven or eight goals in every game."
Miura, whose line with Furuhashi and Kento Suzuki played a big role in that fast start, is enjoying life at this tournament.
“There’s a great atmosphere and it was something special to play against Ukraine with their supporters in the current situation,” he said. “We played very well over the whole 60 minutes so we’re happy.”
Furuhashi got his second of the game in the 10th minute following another Ukrainian turnover in centre ice. Seizing the loose puck himself, the 28-year-old ran through to pot his fourth of the tournament. For a player who last went into competitive action in 2020, that’s some return.
For Miura, though, it’s no surprise. “Furuhashi is probably the fastest player at this tournament,” he added. “He’s a great skater and I think we have good chemistry, not just the two of us but also Suzuki, he’s a great player too.”
Things might have been different if an early chance for Ukraine’s Mykhailo Chikantsev had dropped more kindly. Instead, the puck got tangled under the 20-year-old’s skates and his shot lacked menace. His team’s first-period misfortunes were summed up by the fate of its goalies. Pysarenko was pulled after the third goal, only for understudy Dmytro Kubrytsky to leave the game with an injury two minutes later.
The opening session ended with a flashpoint. Felix Morozov skated clear and fired a shot at Yuta Narisawa long after the hooter had sounded. Japan, outraged by this breach of hockey etiquette, rushed to remonstrate with the Ukrainian forward who received a 10-minute misconduct tariff for his troubles.
In the second period, Ukraine’s offence improved greatly. However, while Japan was starved of scoring chances it made the most of what came its way, scoring three times off four shots. Kento Suzuki grabbed an early power play goal before another centre ice turnover gave Yushi Nakayashiki Japan’s fifth goal. In the final seconds of the session, right after a video review whistled down a possible Ukrainian marker, Yushiroh Hirano set up Shigeki Hitosato to make it 6-2.
In between those blows, Ukraine enjoyed far more of the game and outshot Japan 11-4 over the frame. That yielded two goals on Narisawa, with Vitali Lyalka steering Igor Merezhko’s shot into the net before Olexi Vorona redirected a Vitali Andreykiv blast beyond the Japanese goalie.
Japan added two more in the third. The Hirano-Hitosato axis combined again for number seven before Hirano scored number eight himself. That boosts Hirano's position as the tournament's leading scorer. He goes to 10 (6+4) points from three games so far as Japan leads the standings by one point from Poland.
However, after a goal rush so far, things could be very different tomorrow in the deciding game. "Poland have good size, a very solid team," Miura added. "I think it’s going to be a very low-scoring game but we’re confident we can win this tournament."
While Japan prepares for its gold-medal test against Poland, Ukraine can still leave with bronze if Estonia is unable to win its two remaining games against Serbia on Saturday evening and Ukraine 24 hours later.