Canada had a difficult time finishing off South Korea on Sunday, looking unconvincing for large parts of a 4-0 win over the host country.
Third-period goals by Maxim Lapierre and Gilbert Brule helped make the score look more flattering for Canada, which struggled for two periods to assert its superiority.
"They stick around," Canadian winger Wojtek Wolski said. "They had some chances on the power play. The game was a lot closer than the score shows."
"They work their butts off and their goalie seems to play well against us. Maybe because he's Canadian, he steps up," defenseman Chris Lee said. "I don't know if we could have got any more shots at him."
Matt Dalton, a 31-year-old from Clinton, Ontario, who is one of seven North Americans on the Korean team, made 45 saves that included the first period when the shot count was 14-1 at one point.
"After the first period I was trying to get some salt tablets or something. My legs were starting to cramp up a little bit ... It woke me up, that's for sure," said Dalton.
Christian Thomas, son of former NHLer Steve Thomas, and Eric O'Dell also scored for Canada.
The win, coupled with Sweden's 3-1 victory over Finland in Group C, meant Canada finishes as the best second-place team and joins the three group winners in advancing to the quarterfinals.
The remaining eight teams face off to see which four joins them.
"We're going to have to be tighter," Lee said. "There's still some things that we should clean up."
Added coach Willie Desjardins: "We have to be ready. We don't have any choice. We've had a couple of good games, but we've got our toughest hockey coming up and we know that."
Bypassing the playoff qualification round means an extra day off for Canada.
"We've got some guys that can use it," Desjardins said of the day off.
The Canadian men will play Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday's Finland-Korea game.
The Czech Republic defeated Switzerland 4-1 earlier in the day to assure the top spot in Group A with eight points, one ahead of Canada.
While Canada emerged victorious, the Korean team and its loyal fans had a night to remember. They hung tough with a Canadian squad that, while not NHLers, plays in far better leagues than the Asia League Ice Hockey circuit that is home to all the Koreans.
Canada has 20 Olympic men's hockey medals (13 gold, five silver and two bronze). Korea was playing its third-ever Olympic game.
"I'm very proud of how hard they worked and how hard they competed," said Korean coach Jim Paek, a Seoul-born former NHLer.
It was a party-like atmosphere Sunday at the 10,000-seat Gangneung Hockey Centre with a Korean chant starting seconds after the puck dropped.
"That what makes this so special," Wolski said. "You play that team and the crowd's really in it, they're so excited. It was a lot of fun."
Korea had the first shot with the crowd noise rising as Young Jun Lee skated toward the Canadian end. Canada had the next 14 shots and Thomas made it 1-0 with a high wrist shot that beat Dalton at 7:36.
Helped by penalties, Korean came on in the second period and Canadian goalie Kevin Poulin had several uncomfortable moments. Korea, which had 19 shots for the game, seemed to grow in confidence as Canada failed to add to its slim lead.
Canada beat Dalton again with its 26th shot after the goalie misread a bounce off the backboards and O'Dell was there to tuck the puck into the unguarded side of the net at 14:22 of the second.
Canada outshot the Koreans 18-5 after 20 minutes and 32-13 after 40.
With Canada playing back-to-back games, Poulin started in goal in place of Ben Scrivens.
Lapierre made it 3-0 at 3:43 of the third, slipping the puck between Dalton's legs after heading to the goal on a solo rush down the wing.
Brule rounded out the scoring on the power play at 18:02 with a backhand that hit the post before going into the net.
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