Chicago Blackhawks: Antti Raanta stands tall

After a tough 6-5 loss to divisional rival St. Louis Blues in a shootout on Saturday night, the Chicago Blackhawks looked to rebound in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Kings.

Enter Hawks’ rookie goaltender Antti Raanta who until Monday night had not recorded a shutout in his NHL career. That all changed as he led the Hawks in a 1-0 victory over the Kings to close out the 2013 calendar year on a high note.

The Hawks came out strong to start the first period and it paid off seven minutes into the first period when Hawks’ defenseman and potential Norris Trophy candidate Duncan Keith flipped the puck up to a breaking Brian Bickell who led a two on one with Brandon Saad. Bickell then slid the puck over to Saad and he lifted the puck over Kings’ goaltender Martin Jones to make the game 1-0.

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 30: Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks gets the puck in the net, past goalie Martin Jones of the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 30: Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks gets the puck in the net, past goalie Martin Jones of the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

That is all the Hawks’ and Raanta would need.

Raanta and the Hawks’ defense would come up large on Monday night as they held the Kings to 26 shots.

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The highlight of the night came with about six and half minutes left in the second period when Kings captain Dustin Brown was awarded a penalty shot after being slashed by Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook. But, Raanta stood tall and blocked away Brown’s shootout attempt to keep the game at 1-0.

Raanta would continue to make save after save until the final horn sounded. With goaltender Corey Crawford out and returning soon though, the Hawks have been surprisingly surprised with the play of Raanta. He has shown the Blackhawks that he can play in the NHL now and that he can be a key piece to the future of this team.

Once Crawford returns on the upcoming road trip against the New York Islanders or the New Jersey Devils, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will be a great but tricky position on who to start night after night. But one thing is true, that the Hawks have been graced with stellar goaltending and hot offense including recently-named NHL number one star of the week, Patrick Sharp, who has been playing some of his best hockey of his career.

The Hawks ended the 2013 season on a high note and one could say the entire 2013 calendar year for the Blackhawks may never be repeated again with a Stanley Cup last season and sitting in first place in the NHL this season. Looking ahead, the Hawks need to stay healthy, especially the older players like Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith. The Hawks need to continue to bounce back after losses like they did Monday night.

In all, 2014 looks bright for the Blackhawks. Buckle up, because it will be a fun ride.

The Blackhawks start the 2014 calendar year on Thursday with a matchup in New York against the New York Islanders. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (Central) and can be seen on CSN-Chicago.

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