Hurricanes’ Raanta Stepping Up in Andersen’s Absence is Unexpected

Antti Raanta has been a very pleasant surprise in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Raanta, who had limited expectations as a career backup, put on some of the best goaltending performances in the playoffs thus far. Since the Hurricanes lost their starter in April, the defensively stout Canes haven’t missed a beat with him in net.

Raanta’s Background

Raanta played in SM-liiga, the top Finnish hockey league, from 2009-2013. He played very well for a young goaltender, and especially so in 2012-13 when he went 21-10-11, putting up a .943 save percentage (SV%), 1.85 goals-against average (GAA), and five shutouts. That season, the 23-year-old Raanta won the Kanada-malja, SM-liiga’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup. He also took home two impressive awards: the Lasse Oksanen Trophy for the best player in the regular season and the Jari Kurri Trophy for the best player in the playoffs.

antti raanta
Antti Raanta playing in an SM-liiga game (Photo: Anna Ahola)

Despite the impressive finish to his career in Finland, Raanta wasn’t drafted and instead signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in June of 2013. From there, he was traded to the New York Rangers in 2015 and then to the Arizona Coyotes in 2017. Raanta stayed with Arizona until 2021 when he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes as a free agent.

Raanta’s Decent Regular Season with Carolina

Raanta signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Hurricanes to spend the season as Frederik Andersen’s backup. He compiled respectable numbers for a second-string goaltender, posting a .912 SV%, 2.45 GAA and two shutouts with a 15-5-4 record in his inaugural season in Carolina. The highlight of his season came when he fought off the league-leading Colorado Avalanche on March 10. Raanta shut out the offensive juggernaut, stopping all 36 shots, leading the Hurricanes to an impressive 2-0 win.

Andersen’s Injury Led to Concerns for Canes

Andersen, the elite starting goaltender for the Hurricanes, got injured in a loss to the Avalanche on April 16. The news wasn’t great as head coach Rod Brind’Amour announced that he wouldn’t be ready for Game 1 of the first-round series against the Boston Bruins. Because of this, many Hurricanes fans thought that their Stanley Cup hopes were gone with the loss of Andersen. The team would have to rely on Raanta and rookie Pyotr Kochetkov to get them through the Bruins, led by Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. However, the Hurricanes found out that the team is in good hands with Raanta between the pipes.

Raanta’s Stellar Performance in the Playoffs

The Hurricanes didn’t miss a beat going from Andersen to Raanta. In Game 1, the 32-year-old put on a goalie clinic in his first career postseason start, saving 35-of-36 shots to secure a 5-1 victory.

Antti Raanta Carolina Hurricanes
Antti Raanta, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Raanta had all the momentum going for his team in Game 2, but, unfortunately, he got injured less than eight minutes into the game. Kochetkov went on to finish the game and grab his first playoff win, but Raanta missed the next game, which resulted in a loss. He eventually returned for Game 4 and has continued his great play as the starter through Carolina’s playoff run into the second round against the New York Rangers.

Raanta’s Eye-Catching Numbers

Raanta has been solid in the postseason filling in for Andersen, garnering a 5-4 record with a .931 SV%, 2.09 GAA, and one shutout. His SV% and GAA both rank fifth overall in the playoffs, but among active goalies, he sits in the top three. His SV% is third behind Mike Smith (.931 SV%) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (.932 SV%), while his GAA is the highest among active starters. These numbers are especially staggering since no one expected this out of Raanta, a journeyman who never seemed to be able to stay with one team for a long period of time.

Raanta Feeds Off of the Rowdy Raleigh Crowd

Raanta has played great at home all season for the Canes, posting a .924 SV%, 2.06 GAA, two shutouts, and a 10-2-1 record in the regular season. His playoffs stats have been incredible overall, but his numbers at home are otherworldly.

Antti Raanta Carolina Hurricanes
Antti Raanta in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs against the Boston Bruins (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Finn accumulated an unbelievable .968 SV%, 1.70 GAA, and a shutout while being undefeated at PNC Arena this postseason. It’s safe to say that Raanta feeds off of the home crowd, and they help him to perform to the best of his abilities.

Raanta’s Numbers are Making Hurricanes’ History

The last time a Hurricane netminder played as well as Raanta was back in 2001-02 when two Carolina goalies played well en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Arturs Irbe put forth a .938 SV%, 1.67 GAA, and a shutout in 18 games played, and Kevin Weekes put up a .939 SV%, 1.62 GAA, and two shutouts in eight games. For the Hurricanes’ sake, one would hope that those similar numbers mean that history will repeat itself, and Carolina could go back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Hurricanes Continue to Lean on Raanta Against Rangers

Hurricanes’ season still isn’t over as Raanta willed them past the Bruins in Game 7 of the opening round, and they now continue to rely on him against the Rangers in the second round. The Hurricanes and Rangers are tied 2-2, and Raanta is trying to keep up with Igor Shesterkin, a Hart and Vezina Trophy finalist. Shesterkin has a .959 SV% and 1.25 GAA while Raanta has a .936 SV%, 1.75 GAA and a shutout in the series. The Hurricanes are hoping to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, which would be the franchise’s second appearance in four seasons.

Hurricanes Have Confidence in Raanta

A big part of a player’s confidence has to do with the team believing in them. That’s the case with Raanta as Brind’Amour, among others, voiced his appreciation of the savvy veteran goaltender.

“We had seen enough of Raanta, and he had just been solid. I don’t know if we anticipated him being better since he’s played in the playoffs, but we certainly had confidence in his ability.”

– Rod Brind’Amour on Antti Raanta following his shutout against the Rangers in the playoffs (May 20,2022) – CanesPR
Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour
Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Not only Brind’Amour but also alternate captain Sebastian Aho gave praise:

“The team gets a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence in their own play when you see your goalie playing at that level. He’s been unbelievable. I’m happy for the guy, and it’s obviously a good situation with the team.”

– Sebastian Aho following Raanta’s shutout against the Rangers (May 20, 2022) – CanesPR

The 6-foot goalie’s play has been an inspiration, and he’s a huge reason that they’ve gotten this far.

Hurricanes Have to Decide Between Andersen and Raanta

Raanta proving himself a reliable playoff goaltender presents quite a few opportunities for the Hurricanes. First, it forces them to pick between Andersen and Raanta for the remainder of the playoffs once Andersen becomes active. The team will most likely pick Andersen since he’s played like a top-three goalie throughout the regular season.

Related: Hurricanes Enter Risky Territory With Andersen & Raanta

However, this may be a difficult decision to make, given how great he has been throughout these past few weeks.

Raanta Could Become Trade Asset for the Hurricanes

The more interesting question for the team is: What will the Hurricanes do with Raanta next season? His contract expires in 2023, so they will have the rights to him for at least another season. General manager Don Waddell should consider trading him either this offseason or before next season’s trade deadline because his value has never been higher. There are many teams that need goaltending and might be interested in trading for the 33-year-old, and NHL teams are certainly taking notice of what he’s accomplishing during the playoffs.