When Corey Crawford left Chicago’s December 8th game against the Florida Panthers with an injury, Blackhawks fans took a collective “gulp.” A previous injury to Nikolai Khabibulin left the interim starting position in net to Finnish goalie Antti Raanta.
Raanta was signed at the end of last season after winning a championship with Assat of the SM-Liiga, as well as the regular season and playoff MVP. The immediate thought with the 24-year old was that he could be the next great unknown from Finland like former Blackhawk netminder Antti Niemi.
For those wondering, Raanta’s name is pronounced AHN-tee RAHN-tah. Now you cannot say it incorrectly.
Raanta is 8-1-2 on the season, with 7 of those victories coming since Crawford’s injury. The two overtime losses came in shootouts. Raanta showed an improvement in Chicago’s shootout loss to Vancouver last week, lasting eight rounds before giving up the second and decisive goal. His vision in net is making progress to the point that he is no longer diving and flopping in the goal crease like he had just a few weeks ago.
Even with the positives and stability the rookie goalie has brought to the Chicago Blackhawks, the return of Corey Crawford will be a boost that cannot be quantified. If you were to take away arguably the most important player to a team’s success to any of Chicago’s teams, Crawford would be at or near the top of the list. Derrick Rose’s second injury in as many seasons has made the Bulls pretty bad. If the Cubs or White Sox were to lose Starlin Castro or Chris Sale, it could be argued that each team would still be a bottom feeder. As we have seen with the Bears, losing Jay Cutler at quarterback has only shown how much backup Josh McCown has taken to the new offensive system in town.
Antti Raanta’s play has taken Crawford off the top of the list for players toughest to lose for the time being. Fans can be excited for his play, but Crawford has shown he can be successful for eight games, as well. ‘Crow’ has single-handedly kept the Hawks in playoff series and has a ring to prove his worth. The Western Conference is miles ahead of the Eastern Conference, and goalie play is that much more valuable for a team expected to compete for another Stanley Cup Championship.
Once Corey Crawford returns in the next week or so, do not forget in the playoffs the stretch in December when Antti Raanta helped the team earn 16 out of a possible 20 points. It could be the difference between first place and a tough first round matchup out west.
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