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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belarus Downs France To Book Spot in Finals

APBelarus' Andrei Kovalev attempting a shot during his country's win on Monday.
SALT LAKE CITY -- Surprising Belarus became the first team to advance to the final round of the men's ice hockey tournament with a 3-1 win over France on Monday.

Barely given a chance to win a game in the preliminary round, Belarus took its second straight victory to stay undefeated, leaving France, Switzerland and Ukraine with too big a gap to close with one game remaining in the round-robin format.

Coupled with Ukraine's 5-2 upset of Switzerland earlier in the day, Belarus can do no worse than tie Ukraine with four points after the third and final game. Belarus would advance, however, on the strength of its 1-0 win over Ukraine on Saturday.

Germany and Latvia were to square off Tuesday to determine the winner of Group A. Germany needed only a tie or better to move into the next round along with Belarus where hockey's big six -- Russia, Sweden, Finland, Canada, the U.S. and reigning champion the Czech Republic -- will join the battle.

France opened the scoring with less than four minutes gone in the first period on a goal by Maurice Rozenthal, but that lasted only five minutes before Andrei Rasolko evened things up.

Belarus began to assert itself at both ends of the ice and finally broke through the brilliant goaltending of Cristobal Huet when former Los Angeles Kings forward Vladimir Tsyplakov deflected a shot between Huet's pads to give Belarus the lead for good.

Huet kept the French in the match with several diving saves, including an acrobatic stop on Andrei Kovalev during a rare penalty shot midway through the second period.

Belarus made it 3-1 when Dmitri Pankov intercepted a pass and broke in on Huet, beating him with a low shot.

In a rough game that included as much clutching and grabbing as it did passing and shooting, Ukraine used its size to slow down the more experienced Swiss team.

The plan worked as Ukraine, competing in Olympic ice hockey for the first time, jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Valentyn Oletsky and Ruslan Fedotenko, a forward for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Sandy Jeannin got one back for the Swiss before the end of the first period, but Sergei Varlamov made it 3-1 less than two minutes into the second frame, chasing Colorado Avalanche goalie David Aebischer from the game.

The Swiss closed the gap to one with Ivo Ruthemann's power-play goal but that was as close as they would get. Ukraine scored two more goals while holding off a last-period push by the Swiss.