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Rangers backup Antti Raanta could be back in net as soon as Monday

Antti Raanta of the New York Rangers makes

Antti Raanta of the New York Rangers makes a second-period save against the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016. Credit: Jim McIsaac

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Rangers goaltender Antti Raanta needs some ice time, and that could happen as soon as Monday night.

Raanta, 27, last started in Montreal on Jan. 14 but left with an injury after the first period. His last complete game was on Dec. 29 in Arizona, a 6-3 win. That was 46 days ago.

Why? Here are a few reasons: a lower-body injury, All-Star Weekend, the NHL-mandated five-day break, the birth of his daughter and coach Alain Vigneault’s desire to have Henrik Lundqvist find a rhythm.

This is Raanta’s longest stretch of the season without a start, although he relieved Lundqvist at home on Jan. 31 against the Blue Jackets.

Given all that, it would make sense for the Rangers’ now-healthy, very capable backup to get the call Monday night against the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, although Vigneault has not said so publicly. Throw in that Lundqvist has started 17 straight games, including an emotional 400th victory Saturday night, and it appears as if it could be Raanta’s time again.

Vigneault, who understands Raanta’s value, said he made decisions on his starting netminder on a game-by-game basis during the four-game homestand sweep by the Rangers, who have won five straight overall.

Last season, Raanta’s first with the Rangers, he was 11-6-2 with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Before this season, Vigneault said that ideally, Raanta would have a larger role, with Lundqvist playing between 55 and 60 games to keep him fresh.

Raanta’s numbers have been even better this season: In 15 starts, he is 10-3 with a 2.21 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. Overall, he has appeared in 19 games, four in relief of Lundqvist, who has won 11 of the last 17 games and is 1-2-0 against the Blue Jackets this season.

Raanta also has two shutouts (on Dec. 9 in Chicago and Dec. 11 against the Devils) and became the first Rangers goaltender to blank opponents in two straight games since Mike Dunham in 2002-03.

The easygoing Finn should have opportunities down the stretch. There are seven back-to-back sets remaining, including five in March, a month during which the Rangers (36-18-1) are on the road for 10 games.

With 27 games remaining, Lundqvist already has made 40 starts. He likely will start fewer than 20 more, depending on where the Rangers are slotted in the playoff race, but Raanta will get his share.

Notes & quotes: Defenseman Dan Girardi (ankle), who has missed the last two games, went through a full practice and could play Monday night.





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