Avs Edge Blackhawks 3-2

By Chris Kuc Tribune reporter

DENVER — Right around the time Antti Raanta checked into his hotel room, it struck the Blackhawks goaltender that he’d made his NHL debut against the Avalanche in the Mile High City.

“I remembered (Tuesday), when we came here,” Raanta said. “Same hotel and I think the same hotel room. Everything came to my mind.”

Raanta made some more memories against the Avs on Wednesday, though they weren’t all that pleasant as the rookie suffered the loss when the Hawks fell to Colorado 3-2 in an entertaining contest at the Pepsi Center. It marked the fourth time in five meetings this season that the Avs defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly each had a goal and an assist, Brad Malone also scored and netminder Semyon Varlamov made the goals stand up as the Avalanche vaulted over the Hawks into second place in the Central Division with 91 points.

Patrick Kane scored a highlight-reel goal and Brandon Saad found the back of the net late for the Hawks but it wasn’t enough Raanta dropped to 12-3-3 on the season. With the teams currently locked into second and third in the division, the game was a possible first-round playoff series preview.

On the surface, the decision to start Raanta in an important game seemed curious. When playoffs roll around in a month or so, Corey Crawford is expected to man the nets during the duration of whatever run the Hawks can put together. But coach Joel Quenneville had a reasonable explanation: “We played some big games against (the Avalanche) this year. We don’t like our record and we’re making a change.”

Raanta responded with a relatively solid performance. Malone’s goal late in the first period is one the goalie would like back as the Avalanche forward flung the puck on net from a wide angle and it squirted through Raanta’s pads and into the net.

Duchene made it 2-0 in the opening minute of the second when the center pounced on a puck in the right circle and fired it past a lunging Raanta.

The Hawks picked up the pace and Kane cut the deficit in half with a jaw-dropping  goal. The winger carried the puck into the Colorado zone, skated right around Avs defenseman Jan Hejda and roofed a backhander past Varlamov.

In the third, the Hawks ran into penalty trouble and the Avs made them pay when O’Reilly banged home a rebound with his team on a two-man advantage.

In the waning moments, Quenneville pulled Raanta and Saad scored from in close to cut the deficit to one.

Raanta’s appearance on Nov. 19 in relief of Crawford was the beginning of Raanta’s rookie campaign that at one point included 12 consecutive appearances while the Hawks’ starter was injured. Since Crawford returned Jan. 2, Raanta had appeared in four games before leading the Hawks on to the ice Wednesday—his first action since Jan. 28.

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