Raanta delivers shutout to close out 2013

CHICAGO -- Antti Raanta's time as the Chicago Blackhawks' No. 1 goaltender will likely come to an end later this week, with Corey Crawford expected to return from injury.

If Monday was Raanta’s final start as the Blackhawks’ main guy, he went out on top. He secured his first NHL shutout by making 26 saves and denying a penalty shot in the Blackhawks’ 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center.

Raanta, a rookie, celebrated his shutout and being named the game’s No. 1 star with a handful of fist-pumps and a high leg-raise while skating around the ice. His smile barely left his face during postgame interviews.

“[You] just try to have a good feeling every time you go to the ice because [it’s not good] when the hobby turns to a job,” Raanta said. “It’s pretty nice to have every time the chance to go to the ice and keep just having fun.

“Good 60 minutes. There was a couple times in the last few minutes where I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ It was like the same kind of thing the last time we played against L.A. They’re going to score in the last two minutes, but the guys were playing really, really nice in front of me. They were blocking the shots all the time. I think I got three-four saves in the last period, so they made my job pretty easy.”

Raanta had to stop five shots in the third period and six shots in the first. It was the second period during which he had to do a bulk of work, making 15 saves.

The Kings’ best chance in the game came when forward Dustin Brown was awarded a penalty shot after he was hooked by Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook on a breakaway.

Raanta had had mixed success in shootouts this season, but he felt the penalty shot was different because he had less time to analyze what Brown might do. Brown attempted to beat Raanta with a low shot as he approached the net, and Raanta was able to stuff it with his blocker and leg pad.

“It was good it came inside the game,” Raanta said. “I didn’t have too much time to think about it. Just tried to stop the puck, luckily hit the block and we got the shutout from that.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was impressed by Raanta’s performance, but what added to it for Quenneville was the fact that Raanta was coming off a game in which he allowed five goals, including two in the third period’s final four minutes, in a 6-5 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Raanta had a similar bounce-back effort after he gave up five goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 14 and allowed just one goal against the Kings on Dec. 15.

“I thought both times he had a real good response when the pucks went in on him, but outstanding game,” Quenneville said. “He was sharp, challenged early in the game. I thought he played with a lot of confidence, which was good to see that in a young kid.”

Raanta had displayed that confidence for much of the past three weeks since being made the starter after Crawford was injured Dec. 8. Raanta made his 10th consecutive start Monday and improved to 7-1-2 during that span. He allowed two goals or less in eight of the starts.

“Real happy with him,” Quenneville said. “I thought he’s done a great job. Coming in as a young kid unproven, getting 10 or 11 starts in a row, big games, important games. Consistency is what you look for in any player, but particularly the way goaltenders get scrutinized for their efficiency. He did a great job.”

Raanta had no special plans to celebrate his shutout, but he was happy to close out 2013 with such a game.

“I think we go home, eat good and enjoy the evening,” Raanta said. “Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so it’s nice to have a shutout in the year’s last game.”