Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks: Antti Raanta vs. the Central Division

By Tim Lively
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Oct 9, 2014; Dallas, TX, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta (31) watches from the bench during the game against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. The Blackhawks defeat the Stars 3-2 in the overtime shootout. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

During this past offseason, I remarked in one of my articles that a crucial and often unrecognized factor to our beloved Chicago Blackhawks waging a successful 2014-2015 campaign will be the effectiveness of Antti Raanta as back-up to starting goalie Corey Crawford.

If you’ll recall last year, after the implosion of back-up Nikolai Khabibulin, the green Antti Raanta was unexpectedly thrust into the NHL spotlight to back-up Crow. He did pretty well, but Crawford still had to shoulder a huge hunk of the regular season starts after he returned, and one could argue the fatigue this elicited manifested in the Western Conference Finals, to the Hawks detriment.

In other words, Raanta didn’t necessarily win over the confidence of the coaching staff. However, his play did earn him a roster spot, and the chance to prove he can consistently compete at the NHL level. Now, much sooner than expected, Raanta is experiencing déjà vu by once again filling in for an injured Crawford. And once again, the Blackhawks’ success this season hinges on how well Raanta can hold down the fort between the pipes in Crow’s absence.

He may be only a back-up goal keeper, but Raanta plays a pivotal role for the Hawks. Even though it’s a long way off at this point, Rant needs to prove he can be a reliable crutch for Crawford to rest on during the regular season so Crow can stay as crisp and fresh for the playoffs as possible. If Raanta can’t stand and deliver on this responsibility, not only will Crawford once again have to stretch himself thin taking the majority of the starts, but given their position, the Hawks would have to trade for another back-up keeper at the likely cost of several prospects in their farm system, or worse.

Thus, Raanta needs to demonstrate he’s up the challenge, and then some. Rant may be coming off an impressive 32 save shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he’s got quite a road ahead of him, literally. The Hawks are going on a two-game road trip against Central Division teams: the Nashville Predators tonight and the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.

It should go without saying that Western Conference teams are always looking to prove themselves by taking a piece out of the Hawks, and as we know, this is especially true of Central Division squads. The currently division-leading Preds will no doubt also be looking to get some payback for the loss the suffered to the Hawks earlier this season, and the Blues…well no more needs to be said about the ever-growing chip on their shoulder when it comes to Chicago.

Needless to say, Raanta will be facing two onslaughts within the next 72 hours and will need to show his team and his adopted city he can hold his ground and help the Hawks win these games. Rant is off to a great start this season, but there is some cause for concern, as Raanta faced similar nerve-racking challenges last year and failed; dropping an all-but-won game to the Blues, and completely imploding against the Maple Leafs in the hockey mecca that is Toronto.

This is a whole new season however, and 32 saves into it, Antti Raanta looks like he’s ready to write a whole new chapter for himself in the history books of the Chicago Blackhawks’. Here’s hoping he gives Chi-Town something to Rant about.

FOR THE DAGGER!

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