Antti Raanta will make his fourth straight start tonight when the Rangers host his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks, at MSG.
This, of course, has become a big story in the Big Apple. The Rangers have had backup netminders play extended periods before — like Cam Talbot, for example — but that occurred while starting netminder Henrik Lundqvist was hurt.
Lundqvist is healthy. He’s just not playing especially well at the moment. Raanta, meanwhile, is on fire, riding a 130-minute shutout streak which includes back-to-back blankings of the ‘Hawks and Devils.
Not that he’s letting this hot streak go to his head.
“[It’s] pretty special if you can rob games from Hank,” Raanta said on Tuesday, per NHL.com. “[But] everybody knows who the No. 1 is here.”
Raanta has been outstanding for New York this year. He’s 8-1 with a 1.65 GAA and .943 save percentage, which has all but forced head coach Alain Vigneault to ride the hot hand.
“Antti is playing real well and deserves to play,” Vigneault said, per the New York Post. “It’s as simple as that.”
Some have been hesitant to call this a goalie controversy, and some haven’t. Looking at the big picture here, it’s probably less a controversy than it is strategic — Lundqvist turns 35 in March and the organization’s plan to manage his playing time is well-documented.
In this light, Raanta’s run of hot play is almost a gift for Vigneault. Rather than seek out opportunities to try and get his backup games, this has been handed to him on a platter — and the result is essentially a week-long break for Lundqvist.
Considering the NHL and NHLPA worked to create a “bye week” this season in the hopes of providing players adequate rest, getting another one probably feels like a win.