Raanta center stage in Central showdown

DENVER -- No matter what Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy thinks, Antti Raanta will start in net for the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center.

“We’ll see at game time,” Colorado’s first-year coach said, brushing off the notion.

Really though, it shouldn’t be that far of a stretch to think Raanta would get the nod -- even considering the magnitude of Wednesday night’s Central Division showdown.

Despite it being his first start since Jan. 28, the 24-year-old netminder remains confident as he’s proved to be more than trustworthy as the Hawks’ No. 2 goalie since his November debut, when he relieved starter Corey Crawford late in the first period in the Mile High City.

In fact, Raanta, who played for the AHL's Rockford IceHogs earlier in the season, is 12-2-3 with a 2.40 goals against average as a Hawk -- which includes a 16-save performance against the Avs back on Dec. 27, a game which Chicago won, 7-2.

Wednesday, he’ll fill in for Crawford, who has started the team’s last 10 games.

"It's nice to get the start and (it’s) nice to get a start in this kind of game," Raanta said, knowing the Blackhawks (90 points) have only a slight advantage over the Avs (89 points) in the standings with 17 games remaining for each team. "Hopefully, I can help the team to win. I have been out a little longer time, so I try to be as focused as I can and just make the saves look easy and just try to be calmed down and not try to do too much stuff out there. Hopefully, everybody can be happy for me after the game."

It’ll have to be one of his team’s better performances against Colorado to get there. The Hawks have lost three of four against the Avalanche this season, including a 5-1 loss the last time they played in Denver.

Because of that, and Crawford’s 600 consecutive minutes in net, coach Joel Quenneville said the decision to start Raanta was a no-brainer.

"He’s played well for us all year," Quenneville said. "He hasn’t played in a bit. We want to get him in here and we’re giving him the big stage. "We’re confident he can get the job done. He’s one of those guys who works hard, goes about his business the right way and it will be a good chance for him.”

Semyon Varlamov starts opposite of Raanta for the Avalanche. The Russian goalie has helped the Avs win in all three of his starts against the Hawks, stopping 131 of Chicago’s 136 shots in the process.