RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Antti Raanta stayed ready, even while spending most of a season backing up one of the NHL’s top goalies. He’s critical now for the Carolina Hurricanes as they advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pressed into duty with No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen injured, Raanta was the defensive anchor for the Hurricanes’ first-round series with the Boston Bruins. He was strong again in net for Saturday’s clinching Game 7 victory, another sign that the Hurricanes’ offseason bet on an overhaul at the position has paid off.
“When Freddy got hurt, it was kind of like, ‘OK, now it’s a chance for me to show what I can do in the big stages,’” Raanta said after the 3-2 win. “Starting from Game 1, I think my game was pretty good.”
Raanta earned three of the four wins in the series – he exited Game 2 early after taking a blow to the head – while allowing four goals in those games. He allowed two goals on 70 shots in the Game 1and 5 victories (.971 save percentage) then finished with 27 saves in the clinching win.
Not bad for a 33-year-old veteran who had never started a playoff game before this series and had battled injuries in recent years. Raanta looks like Carolina’s go-to guy in net entering a second-round series against the Pittsburgh-New York Rangers winner.
“When we started this season, Freddy was unbelievable straight away and I was kind of fighting my way back to the game,” Raanta said. “There were some ups and downs early on in the season. I think since the All-Star break, it started to feel like I was also contributing there. I think guys started to trust me also. I was able to show I can also do the job.”
The Hurricanes signed Andersen and Raanta last summer. But an every-night role wasn’t the plan as Andersen took the lead and was among the league leaders with 35 regular-season wins, a 2.17 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
Instead, Raanta had been the reliable No. 2 option, with the duo securing the William M. Jennings Trophy awarded to netminders on a team that allow the fewest goals in the league in a minimum 25 games of work.
But his job description changed April 16, when Andersen went down in a loss at Colorado with a lower-body injury. Raanta had to take over the lead role with rookie Pyotr Kochetkov as the backup option for a team that was headed for the Metropolitan Division title.
Carolina needed someone ready for the moment. Raanta has been exactly that.
“When one of the best goalies in the league goes down in injury, obviously it’s going to sting a little bit,” Raanta said. “Like we’ve been playing the whole year, the team in front of me is doing a great job. I just try to do my job and help the guys get the win.”
While Carolina’s aggressive forecheck can ease the burden on him, Raanta has come up with key saves when needed, too.
His biggest stop Saturday came early with a full-split save to deny Taylor Hall near the left post on a 2-on-1 chance in the first period of a scoreless game. It was a moment that Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy came back to almost immediately in his postgame news conference.
“Big timely save by Raanta,” Cassidy said. “If we bury that 2-on-1, things might change in a game like today when it’s hard to score.”
Andersen’s status remains unclear going forward. Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour has offered few specifics on Andersen’s recovery beyond saying he’s working hard to get back and would need to practice with the team to be ready to return.
Raanta has shown the Hurricanes that they don’t have to force anything. And he has an appreciation for this moment in a challenging year, particularly after losing his father in the offseason.
That much was clear in Saturday’s postgame news conference, when his daughter Evelyn interrupted to give her dad a big hug. He helped her get positioned to sit in his lap and share the experience.
“No one at the start would’ve anticipated him being the guy and then step in in the biggest moments and be the guy,” Brind’Amour said. “I’m proud of him and happy for him because he’s gone through so much.”
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports