Antti Raanta

Blackhawks’ likely backup Anton Forsberg passes first test

Blackhawks’ likely backup Anton Forsberg passes first test

For Anton Forsberg, the challenges were going to come early. It wasn’t just getting the start for the Blackhawks’ first preseason game, it was getting tested early and often in that game on Tuesday night.

A small sample size, but Forsberg had a strong preseason debut. And if he can continue off that start, he’ll be the latest in a successful run of backup goaltenders here.

With a young Blackhawks group in front of him, Forsberg was a steady presence in net. He stopped 38 of 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory; that included 14 shots in the first period, when penalties added up and the Blackhawks were on the short end of a 5-on-3 for 54 seconds.

“It’s always nice to get a couple of shots. The first one hit my chest so I got the feel for the puck and I feel like it’s nice (rather than) standing there and waiting for the first shot,” he said. “It was coming a couple quick ones there right away. After that I was in the game and it was pretty easy to keep going.”

Coach Joel Quenneville said Forsberg looked comfortable immediately.

“For the guys who played in front of him, I think he showed a lot. Organizationally it was nice to see him battle through a lot of traffic and action around his net. He fought through a busy game and did an outstanding job,” he said. “It gives you confidence as well knowing, going forward, you’re comfortable in your new surroundings and go off of these levels, which would be a good beginning.”

The Blackhawks hope Forsberg is the latest in a recent line of successful backup goaltenders they’ve had. It’s been quite a run, from Ray Emery to Antti Raanta to Scott Darling. Forsberg’s NHL experience is minimal – he played in nine games for the Blue Jackets the last two seasons. But neither Raanta nor Darling had played an NHL game prior to joining the Blackhawks and clearly that didn’t prove to be an issue.

General manager Stan Bowman said in July, when the Blackhawks traded for Forsberg as part of the deal that brought Brandon Saad back, that Forsberg had earned the chance at the backup job. The Blackhawks signed Jean-François Bérubé on July 1 but, as of now, it looks like the backup job is Forsberg’s to lose. Whoever earns the job has to be prepared because the Blackhawks have had to rely on their backups for extended times. Corey Crawford has been sidelined several times in recent seasons, including last year when he missed nearly all of December with appendicitis – Darling started 11 consecutive games during that stretch.

“We know the emphasis on goaltending is huge and having confidence and trust no matter who’s in the net. For the team, just having that confidence in that guy in the net is a big factor. Coming in here early and demonstrating that can help him as well, getting comfortable with his teammates,” Quenneville said. “We’d love to see him continue on, knowing that he could be a big part of our team.”

Playing against his former team was motivation enough on Tuesday. But for Forsberg it’s about the opportunity ahead of him, not the one he didn’t really get in the past. The Blackhawks have done well in this department the last few seasons. If Forsberg can continue to advance past Tuesday’s start, the Blackhawks could have another strong 1-2 punch in goal again.

“It's always fun to play old teammates and my old team, but it’s a game and it’s my first game [with the Blackhawks]. I've got to [give] a good first impression and I do whatever I can to do that,” he said. “I felt like it turned out pretty well.”

Antti Raanta and Scott Darling paved the way, Is Anton Forsberg next?

Antti Raanta and Scott Darling paved the way, Is Anton Forsberg next?

You won’t find a lot regarding Anton Forsberg’s NHL playing experience, because there isn’t much there.

The goaltender the Blackhawks acquired as part of the Brandon Saad trade on Friday has just 10 NHL regular-season games to his credit and he admits, “the numbers aren’t great when I played.” Forsberg had a 4.02 goals-against average in those 10 games, which he played from 2014-17 with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But little NHL experience isn’t necessarily a problem for a backup goalie, especially one recruited by the Blackhawks. Their last two backups, Antti Raanta and Scott Darling, had no experience entering their time in Chicago. Both did great here and are now getting opportunities elsewhere.

Now Forsberg hopes to be the latest backup goalie success story for the Blackhawks. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said on Friday, a few hours after completing the deal with Columbus, that Forsberg, “has earned the right to be an NHL goalie.”

“We’re optimistic about Anton’s potential,” Bowman said on Friday. “We like his profile as a goalie. He’s a big guy, takes up a lot of net, has that mobility and makes good positional saves as well as athletic saves. A year ago, led his team to the Calder Cup championships, so he knows what it’s like to put a team on his back. It was the AHL, but he’s had a lot of success there.”

Forsberg has done well in the AHL, leading the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters to the 2016 Calder Cup title. In that postseason Forsberg had 10 appearances, going 9-0 with a 1.34 GAA and .949 save percentage. The 24-year-old said the entire season, from start to championship finish, was a learning experience.

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“It felt like the team, the whole time, grew. We had some tough parts during the season, too, but once we got everything together we started winning and gained confidence. Same for me. I had a tough start, grew during the season and got better and better,” Forsberg said. “Once I got the chance in the playoffs, I felt good about myself and learned with experience. It’s a different type of game in the playoffs. It’s tougher, faster and harder. Just the whole experience with the games and the atmosphere, it was a fun time.”

So let’s get back to the Blackhawks’ recent successful track record on backup goaltenders. Raanta had no experience playing in North America before the Blackhawks signed him entering the 2013-14 season. While he had his ups and downs on the road he was stellar at the United Center (in his career, he’s 15-0-3 with a .945 save percentage there). The Blackhawks took a gamble on Darling, who went from journeyman minor-league goaltender to Stanley Cup winner with them. Darling’s first NHL game didn’t come until he signed with the Blackhawks (October 2014); despite the lack of NHL experience, he and Corey Crawford formed a tremendous tandem.

Now the Blackhawks’ depth, especially at defense, was stronger during Raanta and Darling’s time here. But both had their share of goaltending victories and the lack of experience didn’t hurt either of them.

Forsberg didn’t have much of a chance to win the backup role while with the Blue Jackets. He’ll get that chance now that he’s in Chicago. Experience? No, there’s not much of it at this level. But the Blackhawks have done a good job lately in finding those guys who made the most of the NHL backup goalie opportunity once they did get it. Forsberg hopes to be the next to do that.

“I feel I put up some good things [in the AHL] and with the Calder Cup two years ago and I feel I gained a lot of experience,” Forsberg said. “I’m ready to take the next step.”

Antti Raanta taking advantage of yet another start

Antti Raanta taking advantage of yet another start

NEW YORK – Antti Raanta had quite the media throng around him on Tuesday morning, a few hours before he starts against his former team for the second time in five days.

“Practicing and playing with those guys a couple of years, so you pretty much know what they’re doing but they have so much skill you have to be prepared,” Raanta said. “If we keep playing like we have been playing the last couple of games we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Raanta has been giving the New York Rangers plenty of chances to win, notching two shutouts, including one against the Blackhawks on Friday. Thanks to that Raanta’s getting his fourth consecutive start on Tuesday night when the Rangers host the Blackhawks. According to the New York Daily News, this is the first time a healthy Henrik Lundqvist has sat in four consecutive games.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault told the New York media that Lundqvist is the Rangers’ No. 1 guy but, considering how Raanta is playing, the backup deserves to start again. For Raanta, there’s no looking too far ahead. He knows how this backup gig goes: you take the starts when you get them and go from there.

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There were times last season when Raanta’s confidence was shaken. Heading into his fourth consecutive start, however, Raanta is understandably brimming with confidence.

“Of course win you get wins you get that good feeling going. But I’ve felt good all year, with what we’ve been doing in practice with [goalie coach Benoit Allaire] and like that,” Raanta said. “You get that confidence from the way you’re working. So that’s been the main thing this year is just trying to work hard and be prepared whenever you get the chance to play.”

Raanta is like any other backup goaltender: he’d love to be a starter somewhere someday. Much like former teammate and Tuesday opponent Scott Darling, he’s giving other teams one heck of a glimpse at what he can do. Will it happen for him? Maybe. But for now, Raanta will focus on the current job instead of the potential future one.

“Of course, the first couple of years, you get to learn a little bit the things that are going on in the league," Raanta said. "But whenever you get that consistent game and good feeling about your own thing, it’s getting a little bit closer, hopefully that dream. There’s still a couple more wins to take before that comes in my head. I just try to work hard and what I can focus on those things what I can do. That’s the dream, always. “