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Olympic Qualification Roundup: Teams Eliminated Ahead of Final Day

Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand went off, six teams are ready to battle for three spots and Hungary South Korea, Italy, Slovenia and Austria are out of contention.
Olympic logo on ice

Group D – Bratislava

Austria Blows Lead to Belarus, Gets Eliminated

It almost looked like Belarus' hopes of playing in the Beijing Olympics was done. Trailing 2-0 in the second, nothing was seeming to go right for them.

And then a five-goal second period changed the complexion of the game, allowing Belarus to escape with a 5-2 win to keep its tournament alive.

Austria is now eliminated from Olympic contention after starting the tournament 0-2 with just one game to go. Belarus will need to beat Slovakia in regulation to advance.

Belarus had a good start to the game, but as they did against Poland, they couldn't capitalize. At 8:35 on the man advantage, Raphael Herburger scored a power-play maker from in close to make it 1-0. Brian Lebler scored late in the frame at 18:40 to double the advantage in a period that saw Belarus actually lead the shot chart 10-9.

Finally, things would work out in a big way for Belarus, taking a 5-2 lead into the second intermission. Andrei Stas' power-play goal 43 seconds into the middle stanza was the team's first goal of the tournament, but Yegor Sharangovich gave his nation the lead with a pair of goals at 25:55 and 32:25. Shane Prince and Geoff Platt closed the period out with goals to put the game out of reach following a truly slow start for the Belarusians.

Polish Dream Ends Early

After Poland put itself in unexpected territory – within a win of moving to Beijing 2022 – the team fell short against the heavily favored Slovak team in a 5-1 loss on Friday.

Slovakia will play Belarus for a spot in the Olympics with a final game on Sunday. A point would seal the deal for the Slovaks. Poland is still in the running heading into a meeting with Austria, but needs a win and a bit of luck in the other game to advance. 

Adam Ruzicka opened the scoring at 8:06. Polish goaltender John Murray found himself trying to react to Ruzicka's deke at the side of the net, with the Calgary Flames forward getting around Murray to get the puck towards the net. The disk bounced off a defender in front and in to make it 1-0. 

Murray stood on his head the rest of the way in the first, stopping 21 shots against a high-powered Slovak attack. But at 24:38, Libor Hudacek's shot beat Murray to double the lead before Milos Roman converted on Juraj Slafkovsky's chip pass shortly after to make it 3-0.

Poland wasn't out of it, but they struggled to generate consistent offensive opportunities. They were finally rewarded with a power-play goal at the halfway point after Alan Lyszczarcyk found captain Krystian Dziubinski alone, with Dziubinski finishing off the play. Unfortunately for Poland, they couldn't convert on the momentum and Peter Cehlarik scored one and Pospisil scored another to make it 5-1 for the Slovaks, putting a cap on the game.

Group E – Riga

France In Contention After Shutout Win Over Italy

France will meet with Latvia on Sunday to decide who will advance to the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games after shutting out Italy 2-0 on Friday.

With the loss, Italy will not advance to the Olympics, but they will have an automatic berth for the 2026 tournament.

Sacha Treille was the star for France, scoring both goals in the second period, including a power-play marker at 33:41. 

Henri-Corentin Buysse, who typically acts as a backup in international competition for France, had a 23-save shutout. Andreas Bernard had 20 saves for the Italians in his second game of the tournament.

Latvia Edges Out Hungary

It was likely a little too close for comfort through 40 minutes, but Latvia still managed to defeat Hungary 9-0 on Friday evening in Riga.

After Latvian defender Janis Jaks scored at 7:18, the teams played a deadlock for most of the game going forward. It wasn't until Rudolfs Balcers scored 32 seconds into the third and Ronalds Kenins two minutes later that the game really got out of hand in Latvia's favor. 

Hungary looked exhausted in the closing stages, and the stronger Latvian team made them pay. Teddy Bleuger scored at 51:54, Rodrigo Abols added one shortly after, Blueger and Kenins scored again and Balcers completed the hat-trick with two more goals to finish off the scoring.

Group F – Oslo

Korea Scores First, Loses 11-1 to Denmark

The Koreans shocked the building in Oslo, Norway with an early first-period goal.

Unfortunately for the 2018 Olympic hosts, it was the only thing the team could cheer, losing 11-1 to Denmark.

With the loss, South Korea will not advance to Beijing 2022 with one qualification game still to go. Denmark will have a chance at making the Olympics for the first time on the men's side in a do-or-die game against Norway.

The big stars came to play for Denmark. Nikolaj Ehlers had two goals and four assists, Oliver Bjorkstrand had a hat-trick, Joachim Blichfeld had two goals and Frederik Storm's strong tournament continued with a goal and three assists. Morten Poulsen also had a pair of goals himself.

Ki-Sung Kim had the lone goal for the Koreans, coming in the first period to make it 1-0.

Norway, Slovenia Trade Blows

Despite a couple of strong spurts by Slovenia, Norway did enough to hold on for the 7-4 victory.

Slovenia will not advance to Beijing after losing both games to start the tournament. Norway will fight with Denmark for a shot to win Group F and advance to the Olympics should they win on Sunday.

The first 10 minutes couldn't have started much better for Norway. At 6:04, Martin Roymark scored to open the scoring, and Christian Kassastul scored less than a minute later to double the lead. Gasper Kroselj was pulled in favor of Luca Gracnar, but just over two minutes into his crease tenure, Ken Andre Olimb scored a shorthanded goal to give Norway an explosive 3-0 lead early on. 

But Slovenia fought back to make things close late in the frame. A blast from Blaz Gregorc at 12:34 put Slovenia on the scoresheet after a bit of sustained pressure on the power play. A minute later, passing from Jan Drozg and Anze Kopitar led to a Robert Sabolic goal and, suddenly, it was a one-goal game. 

Unfortunately for Slovenia, they couldn't translate that into success early in the second. Mats Zuccarello scored on a penalty shot to make it 4-2, restoring Norway's previous two-goal advantage. Mathis Olimb and Mats Rosseli Olsen both scored to close out the second at 6-2.  

But as they did late in the first period, Slovenia showed some life. At 3:04 in the third, Sabolic got his second goal of the game on the man advantage and a minute later, Kristjan Cepon cut the Norweigan lead to just two goals. But to Slovenia's dismay, Kasastul scored again with four minutes left to make it 7-4 – putting the game to bed.

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Three Stars

1. Nikolaj Ehlers, F (DEN): Denmark has a shot at making the Olympics for the first time ever, and a six-point effort for Ehlers is a big reason why.

2. Oliver Bjorkstrand, F (DEN): A hat-trick from the Blue Jackets star. He's been fantastic in Norway for the Danes.

3. Rudolfs Balcers, F (LAT): Three goals in the third made the difference.

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