Hanae Kubo scored a power play goal in the third period to lead Japan to a 4-1 win over France in the Final Olympic Qualification Group D.
With Japan holding a slim 2-1 lead, France was pressing for an equaliser and had several good scoring chances on Japan goaltender Nana Fujimoto.
But with 8:50 remaining, Emmanuelle Passard took a penalty for holding and Kubo capitalized on a shot from the high slot that beat France goalie Caroline Baldin with seven minutes left in regulation.
“We wanted to put it away earlier than that to be honest,” Japan coach Takeshi Yamanaka said. “But Kubo came through with a clutch goal and that took the pressure off.”
Rui Ukita added another for Japan late in the third, poking in a rebound after Baldin made the initial save.
France coach Gregory Tarle said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“It was a good game between two good teams,” Tarle said. “When we were down 2-1, we pushed to tie it up in the third and had our chances. I’m very proud of our team.”
Japan will next face Germany on Sunday with the winner qualifying for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Germany beat Austria by the same score in Saturday’s first game.
Japan got the scoreboard just 2:21 in when Ami Nakamura took a pass from Kubo and rifled a close-range shot past Baldin.
Haruka Toko widened the lead 3:28 into the second period, lifting a backhand into the top corner after picking up a loose puck off a turnover.
“We got off to a good start,” Yamanaka said. “It was good to score early and get a 2-0 lead in the second period. France got a little momentum there when we took some penalities but we were able to put it away in the third.”
France pulled to within one midway through the second period on a power play. Marion Allemoz took a slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Fujimoto high on the glove side.
Kubo, who scored a hat trick in Thursday’s 6-1 win over Austria leads the tournament with four goals.
“It was great to score in a situation like that,” said the 34-year-old veteran.
Eight teams will play in the women’s tournament in Pyeongchang. The United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden and Finland have already qualified along with South Korea which earns a spot as the host nation. Japan will take on Germany in the last game of the Final Olympic Qualification, a win sending the Group D hosts to Korea.