by Scott King
During the 2014-2015 season, after Blackhawks starting goaltender Corey Crawford suffered a left foot injury leaving a concert, backup goalie Antti Raanta and Rockford call-up Scott Darling split time in net. Soon, the netminders found themselves not only competing for the number one goalie job, but for the backup job when Crawford returned. Both goalies performed so strongly it was a tough call for the coaching staff.
Raanta stayed with Chicago upon Crawford’s return, but later on Darling won the number two gig and played a big role in the Hawks’ 2015 Cup run. Crawford had a less than stellar start to the first round series vs. Nashville, but Darling saved the day. The Hawks advanced, Crawford found his confidence and the Hawks’ found their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.
The two would reunite at the United Center Friday night for a goalie battle that was reminiscent of their competitive campaigns for the 2014-2015 Hawks.
Raanta was playing in his second of back-to-back games for the Rangers. The former Hawk seemed to have taken the net from veteran Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Raanta was 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage heading into Chicago. He was also 14-0-3 with a .942 save percentage lifetime at the United Center before facing his former team.
Raanta and Darling went save-for-save in the first period before a minute remained on the clock. Perhaps the most outstanding save of the game came in the first period when a sprawling Antti Raanta stopped an Artemi Panarin to Patrick Kane one-timer.
“I think Kaner didn’t get the kind of shot that he wanted to,” said Raanta following the game. “I think he was rolling the puck a little bit, so I think I was a little bit lucky also. He didn’t get the perfect shot from there. If he would have gotten the perfect shot, it would have been far down and it would have been 1-0 and then the game would have been a little different.”
At 11:53 in the second period, Rangers defenseman Nick Holden hit Kane face first into the boards with no call from the officials. Soon after, Kane misfired on a quality scoring opportunity then caught JT Miller with a high-stick, earning a two-minute minor penalty for high-sticking. Kane would leave the box to go to the room, but returned to the bench and the ice before the end of the period.
Marian Hossa seemed to have scored the timely go ahead goal at 14:00 in the third period, but the Rangers challenged that the play was offsides and won. The scoreless contest would head to overtime and the game-winning goal would come from Nick Holden at 0:55 as the Rangers won 1-0.
Raanta stopped all 26 Hawks’ shots he faced for the shutout. Darling stopped 36 of 37 Ranger shots. “Everybody knew that it was going to be a battle against the goalies that were battling [for] their job back two years ago,” Raanta said.
“The guys were doing a great job again in front of me. Good start for the game, good save there. Got the little nerves out of my system and enjoyed playing here again. Great building and great fans, special night.”
The Finnish goaltender wasn’t really looking to stick it to Chicago, well not too much. “When you play against your former team, you always want to play good, maybe pinch them a little bit. When you come to the game and you get that first save, the feeling comes back that you know how to play in this building.”
Darling and Raanta met by the benches following the game to exchange a few words. When asked what was said, Raanta replied: “Respect for both guys. Scott was playing a great game. He was [making] some unreal saves there. It’s nice to see him doing well.”
It was the Hawks first game without Brent Seabrook (upper-body), eighth without Jonathan Toews (back), and fourth without Corey Crawford (recovering from appendectomy).
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