The words tumbled out of Antti Raanta’s mouth, one faster than the other.
By the time he finished talking to the assembled media at his stall in the New York Rangers dressing room Friday night, following the 5-4 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings, it was plainly evident that the backup goaltender had reached a professional nadir.
“I was really nervous the first couple of periods and I couldn’t play my own game,” Raanta said. “I was moving too much so I wasn’t set any time when the shot was coming, so it was more about just going down and hopefully it hits you. So it was really tough the first 40 minutes, but in the third period I started to feel the puck better. I thought we got what I thought was going to be our game winning goal but then they got the lucky bounce and it went in and the rest is history. It’s hard right now, it’s really hard.”
After being credited with wins his first four starts with the Rangers, Raanta has been on the losing side in six of his last eight appearances.
The problem is multi-faceted.
Raanta suffered a concussion in the first period of the 5-2 loss to the Wild in Minnesota on Dec. 17. After sitting out the next three games, Raanta had only played twice prior to Friday night. In part due to Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers franchise netminder has had to play more often in the first two-thirds of the season than the organization typically outlines. Usually, Lundqvist is limited to 60 games because franchise decision makers want him to have the opportunity to rest and work with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire throughout the season. But the Rangers’ six week nose dive from the end of November to the start of the new year has forced Alain Vigneault to ride Lundqvist.
Lundqvist has played in 46 of the Rangers’ 55 games this season. He has compiled a 27-14-4 mark with a 2.32 goals against and .923 save percentage while Raanta is 4-4-2 with a 2.57 GAA and .902 save percentage in 13 games.
Prior to Friday night’s loss to the Pacific Division leaders, Raanta’s last game action came on Jan. 17, where he allowed four goals on 23 shots to in the Rangers’ 5-2 loss to the NHL-best Capitals in Washington.
“I don’t know what’s wrong right now, but I just feel like I’m there but the reaction isn’t. It’s hard to explain it. You just try to make the save but when you just don’t have the feeling in your head and in your body, it’s pretty hard,” Raanta said. “I don’t know. It’s tough to take the loss, it’s real tough. Usually you could just say you’ll keep on working but now I know that’s also very hard to do.”
With just 27 games remaining this season—including three this week against Original Six rivals Chicago, Toronto and Detroit—the question posed to Vigneault was less an analysis of Raanta’s play but more about whether the coach was comfortable with the current goaltending configuration.
“Being a backup goalie is not an easy job. You are asked to go in at different timeframes, and it’s probably hard to get some rhythm and confidence and momentum,” Vigneault said. “(Raanta) hadn’t played in a while. I am confident that the next time he steps in goal, he will be better than he was tonight.
“He gave us a chance to win.”
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman