CHICAGO | Just named “First Star of the Game,” Antti Raanta did a victory lap on the United Center Ice on Monday night.
Only he added a unexpected flourish as his joy was totally unrestrained.
Completing his circle, rookie Blackhawks goalie Raanta pirouetted almost like a figure skater, one leg in the air. That’s hardly the way someone about to lose his starting job would be expected to react, given veteran Corey Crawford is days away from coming back from an apparent groin injury.
After spinning his first NHL shutout with 26 saves, as Raanta did in the Hawks’ 1-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings, he opted to display some showmanship.
“I tried to have a good feeling every time you go to the ice,” Raanta said. “It’s very nice to have every time the chance to go to the ice and keep on having fun.”
The dance was an extended celebration of what Raanta is used to in his native Finland. Goalies there typically show the thrill of victory on the ice after games, he said.
Raanta played without worrying about Crawford’s projected return later this week or Kings captain Dustin Brown bearing down on him for a second-period penalty shot. Raanta stoned Brown like he’d been doing it for 10 years.
LA Goalie Martin Jones had a 1.31 goals against average with his 8-1 record coming in. The Hawks even had a Patrick Sharp power-play goal disallowed when it deflected off Andrew Shaw’s stick above the crossbar — against the rules.
So Raanta was charged with making Brandon Saad’s first-period goal hold up. He did, and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt he belongs in the NHL with his 10-1-3 record filling in for Crawford.
“A couple of times in the last two minutes, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Raanta said. “It’s like same kind of thing the last time we played against LA, they’re going to score in the last two minutes, but the guys played great in front of me, blocking the shots all the time.”
Saad and his teammates didn’t think his lone goal would have to stand up. At the same time, they’ve developed confidence in Raanta at the same rate the goalie has discovered he belongs with the Hawks.
“He’s been getting better each game,” Saad said. “We know they (Kings) had good goaltending, too. We know it was going to be a tight game. We didn’t expect it that stand up fully. But we’re happy the way we played.”
The Hawks have gotten so much notoriety for their awesome firepower that their traditional good defense has gone undercover in publicity. It was fully on display Monday in playoff style. The defense recorded 13 blocked shots to help Raanta.
Coach Joel Quenneville won’t have any qualms giving Crawford rest after he returns, possibly as early as the two-game swing through the New York area to play the Islanders and Devils Thursday and Friday. Crawford, sidelined Dec. 8, had to play a few too many games in a row early on due to ineffective relief work by veteran Nikolai Khabibulin.
“I thought he looked good,” Quenneville said of Crawford’s Monday morning workout. “Hopefully we get him in that practice before the (Thursday-Friday) trip, and if all goes well, he’ll play on that trip."
Crawford was optimistic.
"Timing is always a factor," he said. "We practice at a pretty high pace so it's maybe a little easier when guys are shooting like they shoot in a game and come in on you with a lot of speed. It definitely helps when you've been off for a little bit.”