CHICAGO -- Antti Raanta spent the last 10 games proving to the Blackhawks and their opponents that he has what it takes to be a starting NHL goaltender -- some day.
The Finnish goaltender repeatedly bailed out the Hawks when Corey Crawford went down with an injury, including a sparkling effort when Raanta blanked the Kings 1-0 on Monday night at the United Center.
With Crawford recovered and set to reclaim the No. 1 job in the next few days, Raanta is headed to a backup role but not before capping his run as starter with a 26-save effort, including a sparkling stop on a penalty shot by Dustin Brown. It was Raanta's first career shutout, but based on how the 24-year-old has played since Crawford went down Dec. 8, it won't be his last.
"I knew that I can play at this level, but of course everybody was making questions about it," said Raanta, who improved to 10-1-3 this season and 7-1-2 in 10 consecutive starts since Crawford went down. "You want to do all the small things as well as possible and just try to stop the pucks because that is the biggest thing. There are lots of games still to play and lots of pucks to save."
Brandon Saad provided the only offense Raanta needed with a first-period goal and the Hawks withstood a hard-hitting effort from the Kings to cap a memorable 2013 that included the franchise's fourth Cup. Martin Jones was a tough-luck loser in goal for the Kings, who dropped their third consecutive contest.
"The guys were playing really nice in front of me and they were blocking shots," Raanta said. "I had (five) saves in the last period so they made my job pretty easy."
Just over seven minutes into the game, Saad broke into the Kings' zone two-on-one with Bryan Bickell, gathered a pass from his teammate and ripped a forehand past the glove of Jones while falling down.
"We know they have good goaltending and it wasn't going to be a high-scoring game, so any opportunity we got we wanted to take advantage of and I'm happy to get that one," Saad said.
A fine defensive play by Jonathan Toews followed by a save from Raanta kept the Kings off the scoreboard. While short-handed after a hooking penalty by Kris Versteeg, Toews locked up the stick of Jeff Carter in front and altered the Kings center's shot, which Raanta then handled by dropping to the ice.
Raanta again kept the Kings off the board in the second when he stoned Brown on a penalty shot awarded to the winger after he had been hooked by Brent Seabrook on a breakaway. Brown skated in and tried to go five-hole on Raanta, but the rookie stopped it.
The defense aided Raanta the rest of the way to help the Hawks improve to 28-7-7.
"There were great saves by Antti when we needed him to make those saves," Duncan Keith said. "We know the type of team L.A. is, they're a hard-working team and they're physical."
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