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Wednesday, June 12

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Blackhawks Tue Dec 17 2013

Raanta Taking Lumps & Earning Respect In Net

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png A goaltender is a lot like a relief pitcher in that they both need to remain focused, have pinpoint accuracy and, most important of all, they need to have a short memory. Any kind of cage rattling by the opposition or bad goals let up need to be cleared away like ice shavings by a Zamboni in between periods.

And just like a relief pitcher, quarterback, etc., a goaltender is going to have a bad game at some point during the season. It's almost inevitable that the defense is going to have an off night and the offense is shut down -- either out of sync or just the result of bad bounces from the puck. It's not the one bad game used to measure a goalie, but more so the following and subsequent games that are judged in how they are able to adjust.

Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta had his bad outing against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 14, giving up five goals in just two periods (The Blackhawks eventually would lose by the final of 7-3.) It was the backup's worst game in the NHL to date after starting 5-0-1, and the biggest question amongst Blackhawks fans was how the Finnish star was going to rebound while starter Corey Crawford remained sidelined with a lower-body injury.

As Raanta skated off the ice after the second period came to an end, he looked noticeably shaken and probably figured his night was about to come to an end. It must have been difficult knowing he had surrendered five goals (not all his fault, of course. The Blackhawks looked sluggish on D all night, not to mention a host of bad penalties from Kris Versteeg, Andrew Shaw and Michael Kostka, all in the second period alone, which made for an unintended workout for Raanta) while the most explosive offense in the NHL was ahead of him, scoring 3.64 goals per game.

Newly called-up goaltender Kent Simpson was put in as relief for Raanta and surrendered two goals himself before the final horn sounded. With no time to reflect, the Blackhawks hit the showers, boarded the plane and headed back to O'Hare, and had to prepare the next day for a game on home ice against the Los Angeles Kings. Raanta would get the start and would have a chance to wash away any memory of the previous night's debacle. Or would he add to the sinking feeling by getting lit up by the likes of An┼że Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Mike Richards?

Raanta looked every bit as confident in net that night against the Kings and kicked away 21 of 22 shots he faced en route to a 3-1 win (it also looked as though the D settled a bit, helping to keep the puck out of its own zone). Raanta had his bad outing in the NHL and he rebounded nicely the very next night to help his team earn another two points while earning himself the game's second star.

"There were good things also, but I don't know what went wrong," Raanta said, referring to his performance against the Maple Leafs. "I just tried to forget it and come [into this game] a little bit better and keep my focus all the time on the right things. That was the main thing."

It'll be interesting to see how Raanta's confidence takes the Blackhawks each game while Crawford recovers from injury. The team brass recently made a trade for Oilers' goaltender Jason LaBarbera (seven games; 1-3-0 record; 3.28 GAA; .87 save percentage) in exchange for future considerations (more than likely a low draft pick or cash -- or both). That means Simpson likely will make a return trip back to Rockford and Nikolai Khabibulin will...well, no one really knows.

Raanta might have another bad night while filling in for Crawford, and Crawford is sure to have a bad night or two himself once he returns. But for now, it's comforting to see that the team's backup is capable of having a short memory, even though he's only been playing in the NHL for such a short amount of time.

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