Chicago Blackhawks: Antti Raanta

Blackhawks progressing on to-do list

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
12:49
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The Chicago Blackhawks and their general manager, Stan Bowman, have already accomplished a lot in the NHL offseason. Here's a look at what they have done and what they still need to do:

What's done

1. Obtaining a second-line center: The Blackhawks couldn't have taken care of this any better. Considering their cap restraints and Teuvo Teravainen waiting in the wings, the Blackhawks found the perfect solution to their problem in Brad Richards. He's a skilled veteran center who wasn't concerned about money or the length of his contract and is focused solely on winning a Stanley Cup.

[+] EnlargeBrad Richards
Rebecca Taylor/Getty ImagesBrad Richards is an affordable solution to the Blackhawks' need for a second-line center.
2. Re-signing key restricted free agents: The Blackhawks re-signed Jeremy Morin, Antti Raanta and Ben Smith to two-year contracts, and they did so cheaply. Their three contracts combine for a $3.05 million cap hit per season. Considering the upside of all three players, that's a steal for the Blackhawks. If given a consistent chance in the lineup, Morin could be a 20-plus goal scorer. Smith displayed his versatility and consistency last season. He could also be the answer to replace Michal Handzus on the penalty kill. Raanta had some ups and downs in his first NHL season, but he should be more comfortable and consistent in the net in Year 2.

3. Fine-tune their roster: The Blackhawks re-signed Peter Regin, which should give them additional forward depth. They traded Brandon Bollig, which allowed them to clear some cap space. They also decided not to re-sign Handzus. They reportedly still haven't closed the door on Sheldon Brookbank.

4. Add an NHL-ready goaltender to the AHL: The Blackhawks accomplished that by signing Scott Darling to a one-year deal Tuesday. Darling was 13-6-2 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage for the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL last season. He ranked second in the league with six shutouts. The Rockford IceHogs didn't have a goaltender who recorded a shutout last season. Darling will also give prospects Kent Simpson and Mac Carruth another year to develop.

5. Focus on the distant future in the draft: The Blackhawks weren't looking for any immediate impact players in the draft. Their first-round pick, Nick Schmaltz, may have the talent to leave college after a few years, but he's still a ways away from the NHL. They also drafted six other players who will either begin college in 2014 or 2015. Their other two draft picks are from Europe and will be given time to develop.

What still needs to be done

1. Re-sign Kane and Toews: Bowman fully expects to re-sign Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the near future, and there's no reason to doubt him at this point. It could still happen as early as the next few days.

2. Shed more salary: The Blackhawks are currently $2,216,795 over the cap, according to capgeek.com. The Blackhawks can be 10 percent over the cap during the offseason. Bowman said they had some ideas how they could get under the cap, but he wouldn't disclose them Tuesday. Expect one or two more players to be traded for draft picks and/or prospects.

3. Continue to attempt to sign Kevin Hayes: The Blackhawks have until Aug. 15 to sign Hayes, their 2010 first-round pick. He's been eligible to sign since his college season ended in April. At this point, it's unlikely he'll sign. He wants to have the opportunity to play in the NHL immediately, and that's not possible with the Blackhawks now. They're too deep in the NHL, and there are a few AHL players who they could argue deserve more of an NHL chance than Hayes right now. If the Blackhawks don't sign him or trade his rights, they will get a compensatory second-round pick in the 2015 draft. Many believe Hayes will eventually sign with the Calgary Flames and join his former Boston College teammates Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold.

Hawks need goalie depth in free agency

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
11:43
AM CT
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Offseason trade and free-agent rumors surrounding second-line centers are certainly more interesting than second-tier goaltenders, but acquiring the latter could also be important to the Chicago Blackhawks come next season.

[+] EnlargeCorey Crawford
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Hawks are set with Corey Crawford as their No. 1 goalie and Antti Raanta as his backup, but beyond them there isn't much depth in their system.
The Blackhawks have their No. 1 goaltender in place in Corey Crawford and now their No. 2 after recently re-signing Antti Raanta. Beyond that, the organization is bare of NHL-ready goaltenders. Kent Simpson is the only other signed goaltender who has NHL experience, and he's played a total of 20 minutes.

The Blackhawks are hopeful they won't need anyone beside Crawford and Raanta next season, but that's unlikely. Only three teams -- the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks -- got away with playing just two goaltenders all of last season. The Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers each threw five different goaltenders in net during the regular season.

The Blackhawks have dealt with the reality of injuries at that position in the past two seasons. Nikolai Khabibulin played a total of four games last season before he was sidelined for the rest of the season. Crawford has missed games in each of the last two seasons due to injury. Henrik Karlsson was Crawford's backup in the first round of the playoffs in 2013 because Ray Emery was hurt.

Because the Blackhawks have their top-2 goaltenders set and likely will be tight with the cap, they're going to need to find someone who they can sign cheap on a two-way deal during free agency, which begins on Tuesday. That eliminates the likes of veterans Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas. They're more likely to pursue goalies such as Mike McKenna, Drew MacIntyre, Joey MacDonald, Cedrick Desjardins and Yann Danis.

The Blackhawks were in an adequate spot with goaltenders in 2013. They had Karlsson and Carter Hutton on the depth chart after Crawford and Emery. But Hutton left the Blackhawks and started 35 games for the Nashville Predators this past season. Karlsson went overseas to play.

Khabibulin's season-ending injury this past season forced the Blackhawks to trade for Jason LaBarbera, who had some NHL experience and could be used in an emergency situation. LaBarbera is another option for the Blackhawks next season. He had a 2.94 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 32 games for the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

The Blackhawks would ideally have a prospect ready to make the NHL jump if needed, but their system doesn't have that player right now. The 22-year-old Simpson, a second-round pick in 2010, has been in the minors for the past two seasons and still needs time to develop. He had a 3.64 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in 31 games for the IceHogs last season. Mac Carruth, a seventh-round pick in 2010, spent most of last season in the ECHL.

"I thought Kent learned a lot of things this year," Blackhawks director of hockey administration and general manager of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard said recently. "We weren't always the best defensively in front of him. That's not easy on a goaltender. I think he really learned when Jason LaBarbera came in. That was kind of a protégé system. Kent's learning. He's getting better. I don't think he's at his ceiling.

"Kent played his first year in Toledo, and Mac did it this year. It's a grind the first year. We're not looking at [Carruth's] numbers, but if he's giving his team a chance to win a nightly basis."

The only other goaltenders in the Blackhawks' system are Matt Tomkins, a seventh-round pick in 2012, who will be a sophomore at Ohio State next season, and Ivan Nalimov, who they selected in the sixth round on Saturday. The Blackhawks opted this year not to sign Brandon Whitney, a seventh-round pick in 2012, who played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this past season.

The Blackhawks haven't had much luck drafting goaltenders in the past decade. Crawford and Simpson are the only Blackhawks' draft picks to appear in an NHL game since Crawford was drafted in 2003. The Blackhawks have drafted 11 goaltenders since 2003.

Blackhawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver talked earlier this year about the difficulty of drafting and developing goaltenders.

"We're certainly trying to develop goaltenders," Maciver said in March. "To draft a kid at 18, it's a very difficult position. Look at Crawford, he had five full years in the American League. It's not something that happens overnight. It's very difficult to draft goaltenders and hope for them to develop in 1-2 years. Most goaltenders in the NHL are past 25 years old. You have to be patient. Hopefully one of these guys becomes a good goaltender for us in the near future."

For now, the Blackhawks likely will have to find another one somewhere outside the organization.

Hawks player reviews: Antti Raanta

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
10:00
AM CT
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Antti RaantaDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesAntti Raanta, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, had a 2.77 goals-against average in 25 games this season.

Antti Raanta, Goaltender


2013-14 cap hit: $925,000 | Age: 25 | Season stats: 13-5-4, 2.71 GAA, .897 save percentage

Season recap: The Blackhawks brought along Raanta quicker than they planned because of injuries. After coming over from Finland, he was called up from the AHL after Nikolai Khabibulin was injured in November and became the No. 1 goaltender shortly after because of an injury to Corey Crawford. Raanta was inconsistent throughout the season, but he showed potential.

Season highlight: Raanta recorded his first NHL shutout when he stopped 26 shots in a 1-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 30.

Season lowlight: Raanta allowed four goals on 15 shots and was pulled in the second period against the Calgary Flames on Jan. 28.

Final grade: C+

Inside the numbers: Raanta gave up three or more goals just twice in his first 15 regular-season games. In his final 10 regular-season games, he allowed three or more goals seven times.

Notes: Raanta was one of three goaltenders to be recalled from the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL this season. Kent Simpson and Jason LaBarbera were also called up.

Quotes: "There were good games, a couple not so good games," Raanta said after the season. "It was like steady all the time, lots of good things happen. But the second half of the season there was too much ups and downs in the games and in the practice, so I think that was the main reason why I didn't get so much playing time in the last games. Of course, first year here and first year overseas out of the home country and like that, so there was lots of learning experiment. And I think after the summer, we'll see what happens in the summer time and we'll see where I'm going to be. It's going to be a fun summer to work hard and think about the future."

What's next: Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has expressed interest in re-signing Raanta, a restricted free agent. If he returns, the Blackhawks will want him to be more consistent in a backup role to Crawford next season.

Bowman: No big roster changes coming

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
5:11
PM CT
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman hasn’t changed his mind about his core group.

Bowman said Tuesday he doesn’t plan on making many changes to the Blackhawks’ roster in the offseason after his team lost in the Western Conference finals to the Los Angeles Kings this season and failed to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

“I don’t think we’re going to have wholesale changes. That certainly isn’t warranted at this point,” Bowman said. “Our team performed very well in most areas of the game. Ways to improve would be certain players are going to be looking growth from within. We’ve still got lot of young players that play big roles on our team, and I think you saw that this year.”

Nineteen of the 26 players on the Blackhawks’ playoff roster are signed for next season. Bowman said he hoped to re-sign restricted free agents Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Antti Raanta. Unrestricted free agents Sheldon Brookbank, Michal Handzus, Peter Regin and Nikolai Khabibulin are not expected to be re-signed. Prospect Teuvo Teravainen is also expected to be included in the Blackhawks’ mix next season.

Bowman thought a few new players could be added before next season, but he expressed that the Blackhawks’ identity wasn’t going to be altered.

“There will be some new faces coming next year,” Bowman said. “I think the most important thing for us is to maintain that same style of play. It’s been successful for us obviously the last few seasons. Looking forward, we’re not going to deviate because that’s what the core of our team does well. We’re going to try and accentuate that , whether it’s with bigger players or making a couple additions here or there. There are a lot of options.”

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was also confident the team’s current group could continue to compete for Stanley Cups. Seven current Blackhawks played key roles in their Stanley Cup championships in 2010 and 2013, and 16 current players were significant contributors to just the 2013 title.

“To be honest with you, I love our group,” Toews said. It’s a great group of guys and the guys that have been here for a while and will be here for another extended period of time, those are the guys that are the leaders in our room, the main reasons we’ve had so much success the last few years.

“And I think we’ve just done such a great job with some of those other guys, especially young guys that have a lot of that potential to bring that similar character and same similar leadership to our team are learning a lot from going through series like we just did and even winning a championship last year.

“Like I said, there’s so much potential with the group we have right now. Even the guys that have done it before, this feeling of losing -- even if you won two Stanley Cups already -- to feel this is something completely different and you learn from it and grow from it, so I think as a group we’re all going to do that. I think there’s a long ways for us to grow and get better.”

Raanta staying ready for Blackhawks

May, 20, 2014
May 20
3:33
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CHICAGO -- Antti Raanta has discovered watching playoff hockey to be more stressful than playing in it.

Raanta led Porin Assat as its starting goaltender to a SM-liiga title in Finland in the spring of 2013. Now this spring, he's the Chicago Blackhawks backup goaltender as they pursue the Stanley Cup.

Raanta
"Just a couple days ago, I was thinking about those [SM-liiga] games," Raanta said after practice on Tuesday. "It was pretty fun just going and playing games, just focusing on the one game at a time. Now it's like you're thinking so much on the bench because you have no chance to do anything. Just try to stay positive and say good things to the guys when they're making good stuff on the ice. I'm much more nervous than last year at this time."

Raanta has tried to manage his nerves during games, but also stay prepared just in case he's needed to replace No. 1 goaltender Corey Crawford. Raanta doesn't want anything to happen to Crawford, but he was reminded by the recent injury to Montreal Canadiens starting goaltender Carey Price that there are no certainties.

"I think every goalie is thinking, it doesn't matter if you're a backup or a starter, there is a chance something happen," Raanta said. "You're never hoping that.

"I think Montreal fans are a little unhappy now, but that's hockey and that's life. Sometimes that happens, so you just have to be ready to react to that sort of thing."

Raanta has tried to use the Blackhawks' morning skates and practices to keep him on top of his game. He's found it beneficial to have teammates such as Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews putting shots on him.

"If you maybe make a good save in practice with these guys, I think you're ready to play a game," Raanta said. "That's a good thing for me to practice with these guys and trying to work hard and trying to keep my goal empty. That's real good practice for me. I try to take every practice like a game and try to learn something new. It's a positive thing."

Raanta has also enjoyed watching Crawford perform as well as he has in the playoffs.

"When he's moving, he's moving so good in the crease," Raanta said. "Sometimes he's just waiting for the shot to come to him. He doesn't have to do split saves or anything like that. He's all the time in the right place. He's all the time making the right moves. That's really the type of things you want to learn also yourself to start using those in a game. That's why we've been practicing with [goalie coaching Steve Weeks] all the time. Hopefully I can get in sometimes, and I can show those in the game also."

Raanta is set to become a restricted free agent after the season and has said he'd like to re-sign with the Blackhawks.

"For sure, it has been great from Day 1," Raanta said. "Of course, I want to get a good summer. [This] summer get myself even readier to come here and start fighting with [Crawford] even more like, keep on battling with him. First year is now almost over. Now you know a little bit what you have to do and a little bit of what you don't want to do. I think it will be much easier to come here next season. But we'll see what happens in the summer time. Now we just focus on these games."

"I have no idea [about negotiations]. I haven't even talked with my agent. I said, 'Let's talk after the season if there isn't anything big coming.' We'll see after the games."

Rapid Reaction: Capitals 4, Blackhawks 0

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
8:58
PM CT
By Benjamin Standig
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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WASHINGTON -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks' 4-0 loss to the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on Friday.

How it happened: The Blackhawks fell behind 2:04 into the game. They fell further behind six minutes later. Their four-game winning streak would eventually fall as well. Things rarely got better on one of "those kinds of nights." Of course, the big-picture explanation cannot be ignored: Chicago played its first game since becoming locked into the third seed. Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin scored the opening goal -- his NHL-leading 51st of the season -- on the game's first power play. Jay Beagle scored twice, doubling his total for the season. Nicklas Backstrom's goal went in off Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford's back 79 seconds into the second period. Crawford made 16 saves during the first two periods before giving way to Antti Raanta for the third. Jaroslav Halak stopped 34 shots for the Capitals.

What it means: Beyond the lack of playoff chase motivation, the Blackhawks continued playing without injured forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Duncan Keith and Peter Regin were among the scratches as coach Joel Quenneville rested some players for the upcoming postseason.

Player of the game: Raanta brushed aside all seven shots he faced in the third period.

Stat of the game: The Blackhawks played their first regular-season game in Washington since March 3, 2011.

What's next: The Blackhawks close the regular season Saturday in Nashville against the Predators. Chicago trails 3-1 in the season series.

Hawks find way to win again

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
10:18
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ben Smith wasn't completely sure minutes after the Chicago Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets whether he or Peter Regin was responsible for the winning goal with 3.9 seconds left in the third period.

Ultimately, Smith didn't really care. All that mattered was the Blackhawks won again.

[+] EnlargeChicago Blackhawks
AP Photo/Jay LaPretePeter Regin, right, celebrates with teammate Ben Smith after the Hawks took the lead over the Jackets with 3.9 seconds left in regulation.
Playing without Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for a second consecutive night, the Blackhawks found a way to win for a second consecutive night. The Blackhawks weren't always picture perfect, just as they weren't against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, but Chicago overcame two deficits, picked up its play as Friday’s game went along and ultimately snatched a regulation win in dramatic fashion.

"It's always nice to win games," Smith said. "We miss those guys big time, it's pretty clear, but guys are stepping up, guys are playing hard and we're playing, for the most part, a simple game, and that's helping us keep games close and pulling through in the end.

"Our goal is to be playing our best hockey as we move into the playoffs, so every win is big, every point is big. Four games left now, we're excited for this week here, this push, and hopefully playing our best hockey going into the playoffs."

The victory kept the Blackhawks mathematically alive for second place in the Central. The Colorado Avalanche lead the Blackhawks by one point and have two games in hand. The Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, who lead the Central, play Saturday.

Two games ago, the Blackhawks were a team headed in the wrong direction. They had dropped three consecutive regulation games for the first time all season and lost Kane and Toews to injuries that will keep them out of the remainder of the regular season.

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Rapid Reaction: Hawks 4, Jackets 3

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
8:42
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks' 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Nationwide Arena on Friday.

How it happened: Blackhawks forward Ben Smith scored the winning goal with 3.9 seconds left in the third period. The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets exchanged goals for the first two periods. Derek MacKenzie put the Blue Jackets ahead first with a rebound goal at 1:32 of the first period. Jeremy Morin answered for the Blackhawks in the same period. The Blue Jackets went back ahead with a Ryan Johansen goal, but Patrick Sharp evened the game with a power-play goal. Marian Hossa gave the Blackhawks their first lead by scoring at 10:42 of the second period, but it wouldn't stand, as Artem Anisimov tied the score again later in the period for the Blue Jackets. Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta stopped 24 of 27 shots. Blue Jackets goaltender Sergie Bobrovsky made 34 saves.

What it means: The Blackhawks extended their winning streak over the Blue Jackets to 13 games. The Blackhawks last lost to them in 2011. The Blackhawks improved to 44-19-5 with 103 points on the season. They're on a two-game winning streak. The Colorado Avalanche remained in second place in the Central. The Avalanche have 104 points and have two games in hand. They were idle on Friday.

Player of the game: Smith scored for the second consecutive day.

Stat of the game: The Blackhawks outshot the Blue Jackets 30-14 on goal over the last two periods.

What's next: The Blackhawks return home to play the St. Louis Blues on Sunday. The Blackhawks are 1-1-2 against the Blues this season.

Bickell out again; Raanta in net for Hawks

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
5:28
PM CT
By Wayne Scanlan
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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OTTAWA -- The Chicago Blackhawks will be without Bryan Bickell for a fifth consecutive game when they take on the Ottawa Senators on Friday night.

Bickell suffered an upper-body injury from what he termed an “innocent hit” initiated by him during a game against the St. Louis Blues on March 19.

“I thought Bick was playing his best hockey all year,” said Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, who hopes to have his big forward back for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. “His presence, physicality, forecheck and speed, his shot, disruption of the forecheck, he made a difference in the game, so we're hoping he comes back at the same pace.

“He's close (to returning). We'll see how he is for the Sunday game.”

Prospect Teuvo Teravainen comes out of the lineup after playing his first two NHL games for the Blackhawks. Quenneville said Teravainen, who was playing in the Finnish league, is still adjusting to the NHL style of play.

That could pave the way for Matt Carey to make his NHL debut against the Senators.

“We're going to try something,” Quenneville said, without tipping his hand.

It's also expected that Jeremy Morin will come out and be replaced by former Senators forward Peter Regin.

Antti Raanta will start in goal tonight for Chicago against former Blackhawk Craig Anderson, a native of Park Ridge, Ill.

Injury update: Quenneville said injured defenseman Michal Rozsival has started to skate “in the last day or two” and could be back for the Minnesota game Thursday. ... Forward Patrick Kane has not tested his knee by skating yet, but is “right on course,” Quenneville said.

Rapid Reaction: Flyers 3, Blackhawks 2 (OT)

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
9:47
PM CT
By Jeff Moeller
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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PHILADELPHIA -- Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday.

How it happened: Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux blasted a shot past Blackhawks goalie Antti Raanta from the right point with just five seconds left in overtime for the victory in a game that was played tightly after both teams scored a pair of goals in the opening period. Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith scored a pair of goals in the first period that gave Chicago a 2-0 lead in the game’s first four minutes.

What it means: Chicago dropped its third game out of the past four and failed to gain ground on second-place Colorado, which lost to Montreal 6-3. The Blackhawks entered the game a point behind the Avs for second place in the Central Division. Head coach Joel Quenneville was seeking his 700th career win; he leads all active coaches. Only Scotty Bowman (1,244 victories) and Al Arbour are above him on the list. The trio has won a combined 15 Stanley Cups.

Player of the game:
Despite the loss, Chicago goalie Raanta, who made only his second start since the Olympic break and entered with an overall 12-3-3 record, had his share of key stops as he recorded 34 saves. He made a spectacular sprawling save in the game’s final minute of regulation during a Flyers rush and stopped several shots within the slot in the final three minutes of regulation.

Stat of the game: The Blackhawks continue to be effective killing penalties as they silenced five Flyers power plays. They entered the game killing off 60 of their past 67 attempts over the past 19 games. They were seeking their first regular-season win in Philadelphia since Nov. 9, 1996, when they defeated the Flyers 4-1. They did defeat the Flyers in Philly to win the Stanley Cup in 2010.

What’s next: The Blackhawks make a quick trip home to host St. Louis Wednesday night in the first game of a four-game homestand. They will welcome the Carolina Hurricanes Friday.

Rewind: Observations from Hawks-Avs

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
11:55
AM CT
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Here are five observations from the Chicago Blackhawks' 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.

1. Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was brilliant and the difference again. The Blackhawks may not have gotten as many looks around the net, especially the rebound variety, as they would have liked in the game, but they had some high-quality chances, and Varlamov was there to reject them. He won all four of his starts against the Blackhawks this season, stopping 168 of 175 shots for a .960 save percentage. What got goals past Varlamov on Wednesday were a special move by Patrick Kane in the second period and six attackers on the ice in the final minutes. He made 37 saves on 39 shots. The Blackhawks’ inability to figure him out in the regular season has to be a cause for some concern if they meet in the playoffs. As of now, the Avalanche would also possess home-ice advantage against the Blackhawks in the first round.

[+] EnlargeAntti Raanta
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesAntti Raanta is unable to make a save on a goal by Colorado's Matt Duchene.
2. Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta made some quality saves throughout the night, but the first goal he allowed was soft. Starting Raanta was an interesting choice by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville with it being such an important game and because Raanta hadn’t made a start since Jan. 28. Raanta was up to the task early on, but he was caught off guard when Brad Malone shot the puck from the lower left edge of the left circle. The puck deflected off Raanta’s stick and bounced through his legs with 1:36 remaining in the first period. The other two goals weren’t his fault. He finished with 26 saves on 29 shots.

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Much work to do before Hawks solve Avs

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
1:22
AM CT
By Brent W. New
ESPNChicago.com
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DENVER -- Here’s a riddle for the Chicago Blackhawks’ bulletin board: The Colorado Avalanche and its goalie Semyon Varlamov.

Unable to solve them for the fourth time in five tries this season, the Blackhawks dropped into third place in the NHL’s Central Division after they were overtaken by the Avalanche in the standings following a 3-2 loss here.

[+] EnlargeSemyon Varlamov
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiAvalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov has been dominating in his four starts against the Blackhawks this season, tallying 168 saves on 175 shots and a 4-0 record.
The frustration carried to the Pepsi Center locker rooms Wednesday night. When a Denver reporter asked Jonathan Toews if the Avalanche had gotten into the Hawks’ heads, the usually mild-mannered captain turned the color of a bruise and sternly put things into perspective.

“That’s a bold statement,” said Toews, whose streak of four consecutive games with a goal came to a sour end. “I think whoever said that is getting ahead of themselves. That’s getting a little ahead of yourself.”

Maybe it is ... for now, at least. In reality though, (the reality of the regular season albeit), it’s black and white. The Blackhawks have not been able to beat the Avs when Colorado’s Russian goalie starts in front of the net.

Not once.

In the Hawks’ only win of the series, Colorado backup Jean-Sebastien Giguere was burned for seven goals in a 7-2 win for Chicago back in December. (Even in that game, Varlamov came on in relief and stopped all 13 chances he saw to add to his domination over Chicago and its NHL-best offense.)

And Wednesday, Varlamov was again terrific. Again masterful. Again clutch. He made 37 saves, giving him 168 saves on 175 shots against the Blackhawks this season.

“We have to find a way to beat him for sure. He’s been great for them,” Toews said. “We need to figure that out.”

Only Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad figured out Varlamov on this night. (Kane got him twice, if you count when he bulldozed Varlamov in the crease in the second period.)

As far as the scoreboard goes, however, Kane scored another highlight-reel goal midway through the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1. And later, Saad scored off a rebound with just over two minutes left in the game to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Avs held on, however, despite chance after chance in the final minute for the Blackhawks.

“We just couldn’t find the net for some reason there at the end,” Toews said.

There’s a bright side: The Hawks are still playing well.

The big concern from Denver, however, is the very real possibility that the Blackhawks and Avs could face each other in the first round of the playoffs.

Many might find the Avs to have most of the momentum and the confidence if that came to fruition.

Predictably, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville is not one of them.

“I think, of course, in the regular season there are some teams that you don’t have as good of records [against] as you’d like,.” Quenneville said. “It looks like it’s a landslide down against you. But every game has been different, every game has been close.”

Raanta more comfortable, but loses in Denver

Backup goalie Antti Raanta felt much better in his second appearance in the Mile High City.

The result, however, was the same.

Coming off a nervous debut when he relieved starter Corey Crawford in Denver back in November -- a game which Colorado won 5-1 -- Raanta made 26 saves on 29 shots in Wednesday’s loss.

At times, Raanta bailed his team out, turning away Colorado’s first three power plays. And other times, he had no chance, including when the Avs’ Ryan O'Reilly beat him on a two-man advantage.

It was one shot, in particular though, that will bug Raanta until his next start: the first goal of the game. It happened when Brad Malone, who was recalled from the AHL for Wednesday’s game, barreled down the left boards and put a near-parallel goal on net with 1:36 left in the first period.

Raanta, who was making his first start since Jan. 28, couldn’t believe he let it in.

“That was a bad goal to give up,” the 24-year-old said. “I have to stop those, and I’ll work to fix those things. I can’t have those go by me. But I'll work and get better, and get those things fixed.”

Rapid Reaction: Avalanche 3, Blackhawks 2

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
11:30
PM CT
By Brent W. New
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive


DENVER, Colo. -- Here’s a quick look at how the Chicago Blackhawks lost to the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday.

How it happened: Hoping to stay in the No. 2 position in the Central Division, the Blackhawks were again unable to beat Semyon Varlamov and the Avalanche. Another stout performance from the Russian goalie was just enough to beat rookie Hawks goalie Antti Raanta, who played for the first time since Jan. 28. Only Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad got to Varlamov on this night, but it wasn’t enough. First, Kane scored another one of his straight-to-YouTube goals, this one midway through the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1. And later, Saad scored off a rebound with just more than two minutes left in the game to cut the lead to 3-2. The Avs, however, held on. Brad Malone, who was recalled from the AHL for Wednesday’s game, led it off for Colorado when he barreled down the left boards and put a near parallel goal on net with 1:36 left in the first period. And early in the second, Matt Duchene took another piece of Raanta’s confidence when he found the net from the right side of the circle to give the Avs the 2-0 lead. Down two players, Raanta gave up the dagger midway through the third period, when Ryan O'Reilly beat him on the power play to put the Avs ahead in commanding fashion at 3-1.

What it means: As far the short-term outlook, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville’s decision to start Raanta looks questionable. Hoping to give the Hawks a spark against the Avs, as well as rest Corey Crawford, Raanta looked uneasy early and never completely settled in, giving up three goals on 29 shots. But the real disappointment may have been the leading scoring team in the NHL; the Hawks again could not find the winning recipe to beat the Avs’ starting goalie. If the two squads should meet in the postseason, the Avs should have some confidence against the defending champs, winning four of their five meetings in the regular season.

Player of the game: Varlamov made 37 saves, giving him 168 saves on 175 shots against the Blackhawks this season. He has won all four of his starts against Chicago.

Stat of the game: The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 in power plays. There were a lot of chances, but every time they came up with nothing.

What’s next: After splitting the first two games of the season, the Hawks play the Nashville Predators on Friday in Chicago during the first of three remaining matchups.

Raanta center stage in Central showdown

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
4:16
PM CT
By Brent W. New
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
DENVER -- No matter what Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy thinks, Antti Raanta will start in net for the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night at the Pepsi Center.

[+] EnlargeAntti Raanta
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesAntti Raanta will start in goal for the Blackhawks Wednesday in Denver.
“We’ll see at game time,” Colorado’s first-year coach said, brushing off the notion.

Really though, it shouldn’t be that far of a stretch to think Raanta would get the nod -- even considering the magnitude of Wednesday night’s Central Division showdown.

Despite it being his first start since Jan. 28, the 24-year-old netminder remains confident as he’s proved to be more than trustworthy as the Hawks’ No. 2 goalie since his November debut, when he relieved starter Corey Crawford late in the first period in the Mile High City.

In fact, Raanta, who played for the AHL's Rockford IceHogs earlier in the season, is 12-2-3 with a 2.40 goals against average as a Hawk -- which includes a 16-save performance against the Avs back on Dec. 27, a game which Chicago won, 7-2.

Wednesday, he’ll fill in for Crawford, who has started the team’s last 10 games.

(Read full post)

Raanta to start vs. Avalanche

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
2:57
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Antti Raanta will start against the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday and play in his first game since Jan. 28, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday.

“Well, we haven’t played him in a while, and he beat these guys,” Quenneville said after practice Tuesday. “That’s part of it.”

Raanta is 12-2-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 19 games this season. He stopped 16-of-18 shots in a 7-2 win against the Avalanche on Dec. 27.

Raanta has a 2.75 goals-against average and .864 save percentage in his last four games. He was pulled in the second period after giving up four goals on 15 shots in his last start Jan. 28.

Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford has started the team’s last 10 games. He is 25-11-10 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .918 save percentage this season.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26