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Raanta, Blackhawks blank Kings

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks are preparing for the return of starting goaltender Corey Crawford, but rookie Antti Raanta showed Monday night why his absence hasn't exactly been disastrous.

Raanta made 26 saves to earn his first NHL shutout and lead the Blackhawks to a 1-0 win against the Los Angeles Kings in a tight-checking game at United Center. He is 10-1-3.

"There were a couple times in the last three minutes [of the third] I was like, 'Oh, my God, it's like the last time we played against L.A., and they're going to score in the last two minutes,'" Raanta said, referring to Alec Martinez's late goal Dec. 15 to spoil his shutout bid in Chicago's 3-1 win. "But the guys were playing really nice in front of me. They were blocking shots all the time. I think I got three or four saves in the last period, so they made my job pretty easy."

The Kings got five shots on goal in the third, and Raanta stopped all of them. He also got some help with 5:23 left on a hustle play by defenseman Duncan Keith, who raced back to break up Kyle Clifford's breakaway chance right in front of the crease.

The play was indicative of the Blackhawks' improved defensive effort coming off a 6-5 shootout loss Saturday night at the St. Louis Blues.

"[There were] great saves by Antti when we needed him to make those saves, but we know what type of team L.A. is," said Keith, who had an assist and blocked two shots. "They're a hard-working team, and they're physical. Overall, we talked about it coming in here, about how we wanted to tighten up things. We talked about how we could be a little better defensively, and we were tonight."

Chicago (28-7-7) earned five points out of a possible six in a tough stretch of three games in four days against the Colorado Avalanche, Blues and Kings. The Blackhawks moved back on top of the overall standings with 63 points, two more than the Anaheim Ducks.

Los Angeles (25-11-4) lost three straight games for the first time this season. On Monday, the Kings controlled the tempo for long stretches and made the Blackhawks pay a physical toll whenever they got the puck. They just weren't able to solve Raanta or Chicago's defense, which made Brandon Saad's first-period goal, his 14th, stand up for the win.

"It was a pretty tight game both ways," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "Not a lot of scoring opportunities, not a lot of room. Both teams were checking and taking away the rush game and opportunities around the net."

Patrick Kane's career-high 14-game point streak ended. He finished with five of the Blackhawks' 30 shots, but couldn't solve Kings rookie goalie Martin Jones, who made 29 saves.

The Kings wasted no time setting the tone. They came out looking to be the more physical team and accomplished the task, racking up 19 of their 45 hits in the first period. That included a check by former Blackhawks center Colin Fraser that drove Chicago defenseman Michal Rozsival over the boards between the teams' benches 10 minutes into the game.

Saad's highlight-worthy goal at 7:05 of the first capped a 2-on-1 with Bryan Bickell. Matt Greene initially broke up Bickell's cross-ice pass with his stick, but Saad didn't give up, scooping the puck away from Mike Richards' stick in the low slot and whipping a hard wrister into the upper right corner for his second goal in as many games.

"[Bickell] had a play on the wall, we had a 2-on-1, and he made a pass that tipped off their stick and sat there for me," Saad said. "I had some time and put it glove side."

Greene was disappointed by his play leading to the game's only goal.

"[I] just didn't get enough of it," he said. "It was a 2-on-1 and I have to get a better stick on that puck, and that's it. [It] gave them a second opportunity, and they scored."

Keith picked up the second assist on the play, giving him 36, one shy of San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton for the NHL lead.

Quenneville feels Keith is playing even better than the Blackhawks' top defenseman did when he won the Norris Trophy in 2010.

"He's been excellent," Quenneville said. "He had a real good year, a great start in his Norris year, and a big year [last year] as well. I see a real big improvement off of those levels this year, where he's been controlling the play at both ends of the rink."

The Kings controlled much of the play Monday night. The second period saw more physicality but no goals.

Los Angeles hammered out 19 more hits in the second. The Kings outshot the Blackhawks 15-11 to take a 21-17 advantage through 40 minutes.

Raanta's biggest save came with 6:38 left in the second, when Dustin Brown split Keith and Brent Seabrook and was hooked, earning a penalty shot. Raanta stopped Brown's wrister with the blocker to keep Chicago in front.

"It was good that it came inside the game, because I didn't have too much time to think about it," Raanta said. "I didn't have much time to [think about] what the guy was going to do, so I just tried to stop the puck and luckily it hit the blocker, and we got the shutout from [there]."

Jones kept the King close when he stopped back-to-back shots early in the third with a pair of quick pad saves.

Andrew Shaw's apparent power-play goal near the midway point of the third period was waved off when the officials ruled he deflected Patrick Sharp's slapper past Jones with a high stick.

The Blackhawks will play their next two on the road against the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

Los Angeles has two more games on its road trip, at the Dallas Stars and Blues, before a six-game homestand. After losing to Chicago last spring in a five-game Western Conference Final, the Kings have dropped the first two of three regular-season games against the Blackhawks.

They only have one more opportunity, on Feb. 3 at Staples Center, to strike back before potentially facing them again in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We have to be better," Greene said. "That's it. We have to beat these guys if we want to get out of our conference, so we've got to start doing it right now."

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