By Michael Kelly
DENVER — Antti Raanta has spent the last six weeks practicing. Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks goalie gets a chance to show what he’s learned.
Raanta will see his first action since Jan. 28 when the Blackhawks face Colorado in a key Central Division matchup. Raanta has had more success against Colorado this year than top goalie Corey Crawford, who is 0-2-1 and allowed nine goals to the Avalanche.
“I think we’ve played some big games against them this year, we don’t like our record and we’re making a change,” Quenneville said.
Raanta made his NHL debut against the Avalanche on Nov. 19. He came in for Crawford, who allowed three goals in the first 13 minutes of a 5-1 Blackhawks loss.
Raanta also was in net for Chicago’s 7-2 win over Colorado on Dec. 27, but he hasn’t played since allowing four first-period goals to Calgary in late January.
The long layoff hasn’t bothered him.
“It has been a good time for me to practice," he said. "Sometimes you get hurt, and you’re out two months. I tried not to think about it two months and try to help the team win."
Roy the skeptic
Avalanche coach Patrick Roy isn’t completely convinced Raanta is going to start. After his team’s morning practice he was asked what he thought about facing the rookie.
“I heard that this morning,” Roy said. “We’ll see at game time. I guess they trust their two goaltenders."
Quenneville laughed when he was told Roy was skeptical.
“That’s a junior move for me,” he said.
The Blackhawks and Avalanche are second and third in the Central Division, respectively, so if the playoffs started Thursday they would match up in the first round. Chicago has a one-point lead on Colorado heading into Wednesday’s fifth and final game between the two teams, so the outcome will have an impact on home-ice advantage if they meet when the postseason starts.
“It could happen. You look at our division, everybody’s pushing for the top,” Quenneville said. “Look at our conference; it’s very competitive. We’ve got 17 games left, a lot to be sorted out between now and then.”
The Avalanche aren’t denying this is a big game.
“It’s like a playoff exhibition game,” center Matt Duchene said.
Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson will play after skipping Tuesday’s practice for a “maintenance day.” Hjalmarsson took two shots off his leg in Sunday’s win at Buffalo.