'Monumental night' for Raanta in 1st start

November, 28, 2013
11/28/13
1:10
AM CT
By Ryan Dittrick
Special to ESPNChicago. com
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CALGARY, Alberta -- By just about any measure, Antti Raanta’s first NHL start was as solid as they come.

The 24-year-old goaltender faced a barrage of quality scoring chances, 22 shots in all, stylishly answering many of them en route to a 3-2 Chicago Blackhawks win over the Calgary Flames.

“I felt pretty comfortable all night,” Raanta said. “I got a lot of action early on, which helped me get into the game.”

[+] EnlargeAntti Raanta
Sergei Belski/USA TODAY SportsAntti Raanta recovered after a 2-0 jam during his first start Wednesday. "I got a lot of action early on, which helped me get into the game," said the Blackhawks goalie, who finished with 20 saves.

Raanta stopped 10 Flames shots in the opening period, the best of which came hot off the stick of Calgary’s leading goal scorer, Mike Cammalleri.

Recognizing the lane, Raanta positioned himself at the top of his crease, emphatically swallowing up the sniper’s speedy shot from the slot.

With the Flames in control late in the period, Dennis Wideman went searching for a buzzer-beater, but Raanta had an answer for that, too. The defenseman’s twine-seeking point shot bounced off the rookie’s lid and safely to the corner, preserving the scoreless tie after one period of play.

Now that’s using your head, kid.

“That was a weird one,” Raanta laughed. “I saw it at the last second, so I tried to get a piece of it. Hey, it worked!”

As busy as he was early on, Raanta hadn’t seen anything yet. Ten Flames shots and a litany of missed chances by the Blackhawks soon put the game in Calgary’s favor.

Flames goaltender Reto Berra was solid, but the visitors weren’t bearing down.

With every inch of an open six-by-four staring him down, Patrick Sharp often ends the play with a smile and his arms raised high above his shoulders.

The thing about Sharp, a three-time 30-goal scorer, is that if he misses that opportunity once, he isn’t going to miss it again.

He’s just too good.

“I feel like I could have had a couple tonight,” Sharp said. “[Berra] was making some big saves and they were really limiting our chances, but we definitely missed out on a couple.”

Sharp had a gift on his stick early in the second period. But instead of celebrating his ninth of the season, he skated back to the bench after failing to connect with Jonathan Toews’ cross-ice pass.

“I wish I could have that one back,” Sharp said, “but we still had a lot of time to make up for it.”

The hard-working Flames led 1-0 after 40 minutes, penalizing the Blackhawks for some sloppy execution.

But it appeared as though Sean Monahan’s goal at 2:05 of the third awoke the sleeping giants. Patrick Kane extended his point streak to 12 games (a career long) with an attempted centering pass that bounced in off Berra's backside at 9:42, giving the Blackhawks some life.

“That was lucky,” he said. “But it was a nice break to get us going. I was actually trying to get it into the slot, but we'll take them any way they come.”

Less than a minute later, Sharp made good on his earlier blunder, redirecting a Marian Hossa feed past Berra to bring his team back on even terms.

“We were a little slow, especially in the second period. We weren't making many mistakes, but we weren't generating nearly enough,” Sharp said. “But I think that third period showed a lot about our character.

“We’re so excited for Antti right now. We felt bad that we put him in a tough spot early on, but he held us in there. He should be very proud of his performance tonight. He played a great game and I know, looking back, this will be a monumental night for him and his career.”

The Blackhawks outshot the Flames 15-2 in the third period, seizing control of an otherwise lackluster effort.

And with exactly 18 seconds to play, Kane sealed the deal with his second of the night and 15th of the season, fooling Berra with a nifty backhanded shot that found a way through.

“We came back a lot last year, even in the playoffs,” Kane said. “Tonight was another example of that where we didn't quit.

“We knew we had it in us to come back.”

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