Two goals from New York Islanders winger Michael Grabner helped Austria to its first win at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, beating Norway 3-1 at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Sunday. Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl also scored in the side's maiden win of the Games, guiding his country into a qualification-round match with Switzerland.
The match started in frantic fashion as Austria took an early two-goal lead through Grabner and Raffl, with Grabner chipping goaltender Lars Haugen from the inside of the left circle.
Morten Ask was penalized for roughing after five minutes and 52 seconds, which allowed Raffl to roam toward goal unmarked and slip his shot off the far post to net from a power play.
And, as stated by R Sport's tweet, it's a double that pushes Grabner to the top of the charts:
Norway amassed four minutes and 48 seconds of power-play time in the first period but couldn't make its numerical advantage count, as Mario Altmann and Raffl were noted for slashing and high-sticking respectively.
The first goal finally came after 28 minutes through Per-Age Skroder, who has scored two of Norway's three goals in the tournament, pulling his side back into the match during the second period.
Perfectly poised for a narrow Austria victory, Norway continued to pile on the pressure, but after failing to capitalize on a combined four minutes and 27 seconds across the final two periods and 18 shots, the side failed to tie the game.
Grabner was then on hand to net his side's third after 58 minutes to see out the contest, which was his fifth goal in three matches. This goal helped move his country into third place while leaving Norway searching for its first win in the group.
After the match, Grabner told Star Tribune reporter Greg Beacham of his delight and admiration for teammate Raffl and admitted that he hasn't stopped in his hunt for goals:
I should have probably 20, but I didn't score as many goals over there as I want yet. It's nice to get some here, and maybe get the confidence when I go back.
I think there's a lot of guys here with speed and skill. Michael Raffl, I've been playing with him all tournament, and he's doing a great job of finding me. He's a great playmaker.
It could have been much worse for Haugen, who finished the match with 24 saves from 27 shots, with Austria also playing to its advantage of 12 penalty minutes.
NBC Sports Olympic web producer Dan Marrazza provided fans with an interesting stat:
Fact: neither Austria nor Norway has won a men's #Olympic hockey game since Austria beat Slovakia at Salt Lake in 2002.— Dan Marrazza (@DanMarrazza) February 16, 2014
Finland takes on Canada for the top spot in the group in the final match, leaving qualification games for Norway against Czech Republic and Austria facing Switzerland to progress to the quarterfinals.
On the air in ten minutes with Austria-Norway. Final day of preliminary round in men's hockey. The games get more important with each day!— Kenny Albert (@KennyAlbert) February 16, 2014
The Swiss finished second in their group after two 1-0 wins against Czech Republic and Latvia, while the Czechs finished third after a 4-2 win against bottom-placed Latvia.
Moving forward into the qualification round, pace needs to pick up for both sides. Failing to secure a win in the opening group will have dented Norway's confidence. It will be looking to its forwards to get on the goal trail against Czech Republic, who has scored six goals across its three games.
Austria, who face Switzerland, will be buoyed by its win against Norway and will be looking to Grabner to improve on his five goals. Switzerland's second-place finish in the group may have looked impressive with six goals, but with just two goals scored, there's a real chance for Austria to push on.
Norway currently sits third in the medals table with 14, behind joint first-placed Russia and USA, who are two medals ahead. It will be looking to its hockey stars to turn their form and keep their country's push to top the medals leader board, starting with qualification on Tuesday.
Austria has yet to win an Olympic medal in this event. Meanwhile, Norway has yet to better its eighth-placed finish in 1972, so both sides will also be looking to make history for their countries in 2014.