Raanta ready to start in net, if needed

CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta’s personality is unmistakable, whenever he speaks.

For one, he likes to keep it light and is willing to make fun of himself to do that. Secondly, he’s confident. He believes in his ability and doesn’t pretend otherwise.

The latter was evident Sunday when he was asked whether he was ready to be the Blackhawks starter if the injury Corey Crawford suffered against the Florida Panthers was severe. Raanta didn’t hesitate with his reply.

“Of course. That’s the job I came here to do,” Raanta said.

That may be why Raanta came over to the NHL from Finland and signed with the Blackhawks in June. But his journey to possible starter has played out quicker than anyone could have expected.

The Blackhawks’ plan was to slowly ease Raanta in North American hockey in the AHL, but that was expedited last month due to an injury by Nikolai Khabibulin. Raanta made his first NHL appearance on Nov. 19 and has since played in five more games.

Raanta’s played has been mixed in the last month. He’s displayed quick reflexes and made some high-level saves, but he’s also allowed a few soft goals and made some questionable decisions with the puck. He admitted to needing some stick-handling work on Sunday after allowing a goal off his own turnover.

Raanta has been steady in what opponents have actually gotten past him, though. He’s allowed two goals in each of his five games. He has stopped 119-of-129 shots for a .922 save percentage.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was optimistic after the game Sunday that Crawford’s injury wasn’t serious but said he couldn’t be positive until Monday.

Quenneville also expressed his confidence in Raanta if he was needed to step into Crawford’ place. The Blackhawks’ next game is against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday.

“He’s done a real good job,” Quenneville said. “He’s played some games now. We got to see him a little bit more. He’s doing what we want him to do.”

Raanta was asked Sunday to get on the ice midway through the first period after Crawford suffered what the team described as a lower-body injury. Raanta came through again.

He stopped 29-of-31 shots. And his play elevated after the Panthers cut the Blackhawks' lead to 3-2 at 9:37 of the second period. From there, the Panthers didn't score again and the Blackhawks went on to a 6-2 victory.

“He keeps himself ready and focused,” Quenneville said. “He’s a battler. He made some saves tonight with that same type of approach where he’s never out of the play, and he’s a fighter.”