Former Los Angeles Kings puckstopper Yutaka Fukufuji proved to be the difference for the Japanese this past weekend, leading his country to a 2-1 win over Ukraine to advance to the final round of the Olympic Qualifiers in September.
The final game proved to be very close, heading into the third period with both teams without a goal. The winner of the game would be the one who’d make the next round, and after political troubles have hurt Ukraine in the past, it was clear the team in yellow wanted a chance at a victory.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for them. Japan was very strong, with Fukufuji making 32 saves in a game that could have easily gone either way. With 13:41 left in the third, Kenta Takagi knocked in a rebound to give Japan there first lead of the game, only to have Daisuke Obara score on a rebound shortly after. Ukraine answered back on a shot by Yuri Petrangovsky with a few minutes left, but the damage had already been done as Japan was able to prevent a late-game surge to win 2-1.
With the win, Japan, will play in the Group F Olympic Qualifiers in Norway against the hosts, France and Kazakhstan from September 1st-4th. The winners of all three of the division tournaments that weekend will see the teams make up the final three spots in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.