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Antti Raanta flawless again in Rangers’ shutout of Devils

New York Rangers goalie Antti Raanta keeps his

New York Rangers goalie Antti Raanta keeps his eye on the puck against the New Jersey Devils in the second period of an NHL hockey game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For the first time in 10 years — a stretch of 25 games dating to 2006 — Henrik Lundqvist didn’t start against the rival Devils at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

Stepping in for Lundqvist for the third consecutive game, backup Antti Raanta posted his second straight shutout and third win in four days as the Rangers rolled over the Devils, 5-0, for their third straight win.

The game turned in the second period, when the Rangers, leading 1-0 on Chris Kreider’s eighth goal of the season, scored two late goals — a shorthander by J.T. Miller and defenseman Brady Skjei’s first in the NHL. The Rangers (20-9-1) killed three penalties and held the Devils to three shots in 20 minutes.

Raanta, who is 8-1 in 10 starts, made 19 saves to douse the Devils. He has allowed one goal in his last three games, including a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg and a 1-0 overtime win over Chicago, both on the road.

“Antti deserves to play tonight, and that’s what we’re doing,” coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. “[Hank] saw Antti play, and like all our players, it’s a team-first attitude, and right now there’s no doubt that Antti’s playing real well. I love Hank, but I love the team more.”

Vingeault did not reveal his choice in goal for Tuesday night’s game against Chicago at Madison Square Garden.

Raanta, whose scoreless streak stretched to 151:04, said Vigneault “said to us at the beginning of the season that if you earn your minutes, you’ll get a chance to play. That’s been my whole goal this season.”

Lundqvist acknowledged that sitting out is a departure from past seasons.

“I have always had, in the past, I’ve had opportunities to play in ups and downs,” he said. “I just play and get into a nice flow. It’s a little different now; you play a couple and sit out. It’s a different approach. But there’s no excuses . . . You need to be on top of it and earn your minutes.

“If he [Raanta] hadn’t played that well and I’m still sitting here, that would be harder to accept.”

In the second period, Devils defenseman Ben Lovejoy came out of the penalty box after a giveaway and fed Vern Fiddler alone from 15 feet, but Fiddler was denied at 3:32. Raanta then made a glove save on Kyle Palmieri’s wrister from alone at the left dot and some chants of “Rahn-ta” rose from the crowd.

With Marc Staal off for tripping, Kevin Hayes picked up a loose puck at mid-ice, started skating and led Miller, who was driving to the net, for a beautiful tip past Cory Schneider at 16:07.

With time winding down, Oscar Lindberg won an offensive-zone faceoff and Derek Stepan tapped a pass to Skjei at the left point. His slap shot deflected off a defender and zipped past Schneider with 2.5 seconds left in the period for a three-goal lead.

The Devils tested Raanta in the third, with six shots in the first four minutes, but Brandon Pirri jumped on a rebound of Ryan McDonagh’s power-play shot and scored his first goal in 13 games at 6:04.

Jimmy Vesey scored on a power play with 2:27 left.

It was the third time in nine games that the Devils have allowed five goals.

Raanta played three or more consecutive games twice when he was with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2014. He made his best stop of the first period on Nick Lappin’s break-in from 13 feet at 8:27, then zipped back to the left post to deny Palmieri a minute later.

“I just have to go one game at a time,’’ Raanta said. “The whole team has been playing good.”

By the way, the last Rangers goalie not named Henrik Lundqvist to start against the Devils? Kevin Weekes. The Rangers lost, 6-1.

New York Sports