CALGARY, Alberta – Antti Raanta has been waiting for this opportunity for some time now.
OK, he already got a glimpse of playing for the Chicago Blackhawks last week, when a bad start by the team and Corey Crawford prompted him coming into the Colorado Avalanche loss. But this is different. This is his first NHL start. It’s his game from the beginning. And if he could fast-forward the clock to Wednesday night, he would.
Raanta gets another opportunity to play, as he’ll start tomorrow night’s game between the Blackhawks and the Calgary Flames. It’s been a bit of a wait for Raanta, who played two-plus periods in that loss to the Avalanche but hasn’t gotten to play since.
Now, it’s time.
“Of course, I’m excited,” he said following the Blackhawks’ practice at the Corral. “Like I said after the last game, I’m just excited to be here. Now the first (start) is pretty close so it’s going to be nice today and tomorrow.”
Coach Joel Quenneville said it’s time for Raanta to get the chance.
“For sure, it’s his turn. We’re excited about him getting into the net,” Quenneville said. “It’ll be a good challenge for him, a good test.”
It could also be a rare night off for Crawford, who hasn’t had a complete game off since Oct. 24 when Nikolai Khabibulin lost a 6-5 shootout to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Obviously, this is still new territory for Raanta. But the Blackhawks don’t want to coddle him, don’t want to change how they play in front of him.
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“Obviously (Crawford) is one of the best in the game but Raanta’s a great goalie and he’s here for a reason,” Brandon Bollig said. “His track record before the NHL is great. When he came into Colorado he played a good game; it was just a tough team game. I don’t think we change anything. We’re confident with him. Hopefully we keep doing what we’re doing.”
Raanta hasn’t gotten many full practices in with the Blackhawks – today’s was the first one they’ve had on this road trip. So he’s had to get what shots and work he can during the team’s morning skates. He’s also picked up a few things watching Crawford during games.
“There are a lot of things you can learn watching,” Raanta said. “That’s what we were doing last summer in Finland; you can see how good goalies are moving on the ice. You can learn a lot of things on the bench.”
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Now comes the test. The Flames are coming off a four-day respite, and have given the Blackhawks some fits in recent years. Quenneville recalled the Blackhawks’ last visit to Calgary, when former backup goaltender Ray Emery had to make a career-high 45 saves against the Flames, who the Blackhawks came back to beat 3-2 in the shootout. He’d rather not see his goaltender inundated like that again.
“He put on one of the greatest goaltending performances I’ve ever seen,” Quenneville said. “So we know it can be a tough game so let’s be ready, make sure we play hard in front of (Raanta) as well. We told our team we can’t let that (amount of shots) happen again.”