Antti Raanta will see his first game action in nearly a month when he starts in goal this evening as the Rangers host the Los Angeles Kings at Madison Square Garden. The 26 year-old Finn has not played since tending goal in the Rangers' 5-2 loss to the Capitals in Washington on January 17.
"I feel great," stated Raanta following the team's morning skate at MSG. "I've been doing a good job in practice. It's been a long time, but still my only goal in this game is to help the team to win the game. If I can do my job I feel good that we can take the two points."
Friday's start against the Kings is only Raanta's second since December 17, with a brief relief outing on December 28 also mixed in. He suffered a head injury during that mid-December start against Minnesota; and his only start since was his 19-save performance against the Capitals in mid-January.
"Sometimes you can get that inside your head a little bit, start thinking or freaking out that you haven't played in so many weeks and start remembering the bad things that happened in the last game. I trust try and keep a clear head, don't think about those bad things."
Henrik Lundqvist has started 20 of the last 21 games for the Rangers, including the last nine in a row. Lundqvist is second among all NHL goalies having appeared in 46 games already this season. His 27 wins are fourth most in the league.
Raanta opened the season by winning his first four decisions, becoming the first goalie in franchise history to win each of his first four starts with the Rangers. However he is 0-4-1 in his last five decisions and overall is 4-4-1 with a 2.30 GAA, .909 save percentage and one shutout in 12 appearances on the season.
"He's going to play and he needs to be good for us," head coach Alain Vigneault said of Raanta, while adding that he will see an increased workload the rest of the season as the schedule tightens up.
In two career starts against the Kings--both as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks--Raanta is 2-0-0 with a shutout, a 0.50 GAA and .979 save percentage. Over the course of his career, Raanta is an impressive 17-2-3 in 25 home appearances with all four of his career shutouts and a sterling 1.59 GAA.
"It's always when you get the chance to play you want to give the team a chance to win," explained Raanta. "You wan to show you earned the spot; and it's good to get the chance now when the team is playing great."
The Rangers enter play tonight on a four-game winning streak. They have also won seven of the previous nine games.