After nearly a two-week wait, goaltender Antti Raanta will play in his first game of the regular season this evening when the Rangers host the San Jose Sharks at Madison Square Garden, making his Blueshirts debut in the process.
The 26 year-old Raanta, who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks this past June 27, has backed up Henrik Lundqvist in each of the first six games so far this season, watching him get off to a strong start with a 2.16 GAA and .931 save percentage. Now, though, it's Raanta's turn to play, and he is more than ready for the opportunity.
"My first game playing at Madison Square Garden, it's going to be fun," Raanta told BlueshirtsUnited.com. "When you're the backup you have to work hard for your chances, and then when you get it, you must prove yourself every time."
Raanta has done exactly that since arriving with his bride (they were just married in July) in New York, working extremely hard throughout training camp and into the regular season with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire.
"I think Benny is one of the easiest people you can work with," Raanta said of Allaire. "He always has a smile on his face and even though some days things are not going the way you want them to go, he always stays positive and says let's take the good things with us. It has been great to be working with him. Everybody says he is one of the best in the business; and I know I am so lucky to be working with him."
For the past two years Raanta served as Corey Crawford's understudy in Chicago, and learned all he could from the two-time Stanley Cup champion. Now it's Lundqvist whom Raanta does his best to learn from. According to Raanta, that begins with observing Lundqvist's tremendous work ethic and intense focus, both on games days and during practices.
Lundqvist has also taken note of the skill set and approach of his new goaltending partner in New York.
"He's really fast side to side and moves really well in the net," observed Lundqvist. "He works hard in practice. And so far it's been great to get to know him; and you can always learn from each other. We're going to try and push each other here throughout the year and try to make each other better to help the team."
Raanta has appeared in 39 NHL games in his career, posting a 20-9-5 record with three shutouts, a 2.41 GAA and .912 save percentage. Last year his goals against average was an outstanding 1.89. In 2012-13 Raanta was the Finnish League's Most Valuable Player and top goalie and led his team to the Liiga championship.
Tonight, though he is just eager to make a solid first impression on his new team in front of the Blueshirts Faithful as the Rangers seek to break a three-game winless skid (0-2-1).
"Everybody wants to get that first game under their belt, but I've been working hard on the small things to get better and better in practice so it's not an issue, I'm ready," said Raanta.
Added Lundqvist following Monday's morning skate, "We need to have two guys (goalies) going. I feel fresh, feel good, and I enjoy playing, but tonight I'm going to watch the game and hope for a great result for us."
Head coach Alain Vigneault said Monday morning that he will go with the same lineup, line combinations and defense pairs against San Jose that he deployed in Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss against the Devils.
Here is the Rangers lineup for Monday night's game: