Antti Raanta is starting to regain his form as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup.
MONTREAL – Antti Raanta wore a finely tailored suit Saturday morning at Bell Centre, joking that Henrik Lundqvist’s fashion sense has convinced his backup to sharpen his style, as well.
The friendly Finnish Raanta, 26, and the intense but personable Swedish Lundqvist, 34, get along. Lundqvist said “because he’s a Fin, we get along really well. When he speaks Finnish, I don’t understand him, but as Scandinavians, our backgrounds and mindsets are pretty similar.”
Really, though, anyone who earns Lundqvist’s respect does it only one way: by working hard.
“The one thing that’s been a common theme is that every (backup) I’ve worked with has worked really hard. Every guy has had the right attitude,” Lundqvist said, referring to Cam Talbot, Martin Biron and beyond.
Lundqvist points out that “Benny,” or goalie coach Benoit Allaire, “pushes us to work hard. Benny can see when your game is not 100%, and he’s big on ‘The way you practice is the way you play.’”
Raanta said, though, that Lundqvist sets a standard himself, too.
“It’s been pretty eye-opening to see how he works,” Raanta said before starting against the Canadiens, with Lundqvist waiting to face the Penguins Sunday night at the Garden. “He can be on ice two hours if he’s not satisfied. He’s a great goalie, but he’s making himself better every day with his work ethic. The biggest thing I’m learning from him: every day is a work day when you come to the rink.”
Antti Raanta is making start No. 17 Saturday night in Montreal.
Lundqvist said “when I go on ice I try to put in quality time rather than hours and hours with no quality.” By watching Lundqvist and listening to Allaire, Raanta has righted an up-and-down first season in New York to make huge contributions with five wins in his last six starts down the stretch.
First, Raanta said, “the start of the season was a bit better than (I was) expecting.” He shut out San Jose in his first start on Oct. 19, made 39 saves in Arizona on Nov. 7, and had a 4-0-0 record after beating Toronto Nov. 15. Then he slipped to 0-4-2 in his next six decisions, however, and did not win again until Feb. 18 in Toronto due to a combination of injury, a couple bad performances and bad team play.
Raanta reached his low point Feb. 12 at the Garden with a third-period collapse and a shockingly resigned postgame interview following a 5-4 OT loss to the L.A. Kings. But he said his “mental toughness has improved this year,” and he’s also back to “enjoying the game.”
“In the backup life, you always want to get the win every time, and when you don’t win it bothers you,” Raanta said. “After L.A., I sat down and it was like, ‘What’s going on?’ But Benny watched the tape with me and said, ‘It’s simple what we have to do.’ Now, my concentration coming to the game has different. I think about one situation at a time. I don’t think about how it’s going to be in 55 minutes.
“The last month-and-a-half, it’s been good. I’m getting wins and giving the team a chance every night.”