Sitting at the podium and facing a question about Carolina backup goaltender Antti Raanta following the Hurricanes’ victory over the Rangers in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series, Brendan Smith’s mind drifted to Henrik Lundqvist.
Smith, who joined the Rangers during the 2016-17 season, was not in New York at Lundqvist’s peak. But the Carolina defenseman, who scored the first goal in the Hurricanes’ 2-0 win on Friday night, recalls the competitive instinct that made Lundqvist great.
“He never wanted to be scored on, even in practice, and he’d get upset when you did,” Smith said. “And maybe that wore off on [Raanta], playing with him.”
To understand what Raanta, who backed up Lundqvist for two seasons on the Rangers, has done for Carolina, requires first understanding what the Hurricanes lost when starting goalie Frederik Andersen was lost to a lower-body injury. In 52 games during the regular season, Andersen had a .922 save percentage with a 2.17 goals-against average.
“This year, he was one of the best goalies in the league,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said.
Raanta had good numbers as Andersen’s backup this season, as he has for most of his career. But he is a career backup — though one who has kept the Rangers scoreless for the last 116:05 of this series.
It’s not quite in the mold of what Lundqvist did when Raanta was backing him up. The Rangers had just 21 shots on net Friday, without many Grade-A chances. The bulk of the credit will rightly go to Carolina’s defense, which kept the Rangers’ top six completely vexed all night, over its goaltender.
But the lessons Raanta learned from Lundqvist are paying off.
“When I was in New York, obviously what Hank was doing there was eye-opening for me,” Raanta said. “He was, in 2015, that was probably his seventh or eighth year in the league. Every year he was one of the best goalies. I was like, ‘This is the reason why he is the best goalie.’ He was always working, he was always trying to get better.
“Obviously [Benoit Allaire] in New York is one of the best in the league as a goalie coach and as a human being. It was a lot of fun to work with him and get to know Hank like that. Now you see [Igor] Shesterkin, he fights till the end, he moves unbelievably and he makes the saves he has to. Sometimes he makes those huge highlight reel saves. It’s obviously probably something that comes from New York.”
Raanta is not in a class with either of those names. But through two games of this series, he has two victories and Shesterkin, the presumptive Vezina Trophy winner, has zero. Raanta did not lean into that after Game 2, but he did say that having Shesterkin across from him helps raise his game. As for the marveling over the narrative, he left that to his teammates.
“I just think it’s pretty remarkable what he’s done, right?” Smith asked. “I think coming in and harnessing the moment and stepping in and playing the way he is, it’s phenomenal.”