CHICAGO | Antti Raanta had to possess a short memory, nerves of steel and maturity beyond his years Sunday night.
Check, check and check.
Just 24 hours after the worst drubbing of his NHL career, Blackhawks’ rookie goalie Raanta shut out the hot Los Angeles Kings until less than four minutes remained in his team’s 3-1 victory.
Boosted by a first-period scoring cushion uncommon against the Kings this season, Raanta was able to relieve pressure just one night after he allowed four Toronto Maple Leafs goals in the second period and was pulled in favor of rellow rookie Kent Simpson.
“Sometimes it’s good to have a little bit of a bad game, because then you know what you have to do and what is the problem,” said Raanta, now 6-1-1 filling in for the injured Corey Crawford.
“I was thinking a little bit (Saturday) after the game what went wrong. But if (I) start making excuses and thinking why the goal went in ... I just tried to come here and enjoy the game and be as good as possible on the first shot.”
A productive first period was all the 24-7-5 Hawks and Raanta required against Kings goalie Ben Scrivens. A short-handed goal by Marian Hossa and a power-play score by Patrick Sharp were sandwiched around an even-strength tally by Kris Versteeg.
The first-quarter explosion broke the Kings’ streak of defensive stinginess. With Scrivens and Martin Jones filling in for star goalie Jonathan Quick, disabled since Nov. 12 with a groin strain, the Kings hadn’t allowed a first-period goal in an NHL-record 18 straight games. They outscored opponents 49-23 overall during that time.
Scrivens came in with a 7-2-4 record, three shutouts, a 1.56 goals against average and an NHL-leading .943 saves percentage. Jones was 5-0-0 with an 0.99 goals against average.
“Scrivens is a good goalie,” Versteeg said. “He’s a battler. He’s very sound in there. We knew we had to get pucks at him and try to get at him for second and third opportunities. But tonight we had a couple of good first shots that went in that made the night go good for us.”
All of which put the onus on Raanta (6-1-1) to have his best game yet hard on the heels of a big downer and against the hot Kings.
“We know L.A. has been really good in the first period,” Raanta said.
After the 7-3 rout in Toronto that followed a string of high-scoring Hawks victories, coach Joel Quenneville hoped to tighten up his team’s on-ice momentum.
“The last four games probably have been loosely played,” Quenneville said before the game. “We have to be sharp and bring some meaning to every shift. In the tight areas, the battle areas, you got to play hard against this team. You have to willing to get to the front of the net and win those battles.”
Versteeg believed he and his teammates buttoned up to Quenneville’s satisfaction against the Kings.
“Today we played a complete game,” he said. “We knew what we had to do. This team is dangerous in all areas of the ice. They got big bodies and they finish checks.”