NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Sunday, November 8, 2015, 1:33 AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Nothing could wipe the smile off Antti Raanta’s face Saturday night — not even a last-minute, shutout-snapping Arizona Coyotes goal.
The Rangers’ affable Finnish goalie made 39 saves in a first-star performance for a 4-1 victory at Gila River Arena, improving to 3-0-0 as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup this season. And selfishly, it meant more to stand on his head on the road, never mind Shane Doan’s power play goal with 4.8 seconds to play.
“Honestly, I won last time on the road 2014 in (April). I lost all the games last year on the road, so I really didn’t care about the shutout,” said Raanta, who was 7-0-1 at home but 0-4-0 on the road with Chicago last season.
The first-place Rangers (10-2-2) have a lot of reasons to smile these days, with early team MVP Lundqvist and Raanta chief among them. Alain Vigneault’s team has won five straight, has posted a 7-0-1 record in its last eight games and has not lost in regulation since Oct. 15. With 22 points, the Rangers have equaled the best 14-game start to a season in team history (also achieved in 1971-72 and 1990-91).
Raanta, acquired in a summer trade from the Blackhawks, even acknowledged encouraging similarities off-ice between Chicago’s winning attitude and the Blueshirts’ behind-the-scenes feel.
Kevin Hayes scores in the second period to give the Rangers a 4-0 lead.
“Of course there are some differences but lots of the same things in the locker room, lots of laughing and joking around,” Raanta said. “Even though when the goalie’s playing he’s not jumping and doing jokes, when the players are relaxed and joking, it’s always a good thing. Then you know they’re going to play their best.”
There were plenty of offensive contributors, led by left wing Chris Kreider (goal, assist), who scored his second goal of the season at 5:36 of the second period to chase Coyotes starter Mike Smith (14 saves) for Anders Lindback (12 saves) with a 3-0 lead. Forwards Jesper Fast, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes (power play) also tallied as the Rangers swept the two-game series against the Coyotes (6-6-1, 13 points), including a 4-1 win at the Garden on Oct. 22. Keith Yandle had an assist in his first return to Arizona since last spring’s deadline trade to New York, as did Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle and Oscar Lindberg.
Top-line left wing Rick Nash (back, day-to-day) missed his second straight game with an injury suffered in Thursday morning’s practice in Denver, but the offense didn’t skip a beat.
“Even though Nasher was out, we played really good with four lines today,” Raanta said.
Antti Raanta holds the Coyotes to one goal and stops 39 shots as the Rangers’ backup goalie improves to 3-0-0.
Raanta was busier than he’d been in his first two starts. He faced 13 Coyotes shots through a somewhat helter-skelter first period, after stopping 22 in a 4-0 shutout of San Jose on Oct. 19 and 23 in a 4-1 win over Calgary on Oct. 25. But he was “excellent,” in Vigneault’s words, particularly on a highlight-reel glove save on Martin Hanzal in the second period. Then he stopped 17 of 18 shots in an open third.
“It was a crazy game,” Raanta said. “We got a couple goals quickly and then they got the power play in the end and that’s pretty much everything was going like that, how it might in a nightmare. But it’s great to get four points in two games (including Friday night’s 2-1 win over Colorado).”
Raanta also thanked his teammates for their 20 blocked shots, led by Kevin Klein (five) and Girardi (four). Boyle rejoined the defense despite rookie Dylan McIlrath playing his best game in three appearances Friday in Denver, but the coach sounded measured about which defenseman owns the sixth spot.
“I would say at this time it’s probably Dan’s, but I think that Dylan has made some good strides,” the coach said. “Depending on how Dan plays at the end of the day, that’s the biggest thing. He’s got to play better than he has so far. He knows that.”
McIlrath’s situation also is tenuous because Rangers GM Jeff Gorton has a veteran defenseman in the AHL, Raphael Diaz, 29, who reportedly negotiated a handshake agreement for a release to Switzerland if he wasn’t on the NHL roster after a month or so. McIlrath could be traded or waived, therefore, if Gorton doesn’t want to lose his veteran offseason signing despite Diaz’s bad preseason.
BY Pat Leonard
November 7, 8:18PM
PHOENIX – If Dylan McIlrath played every game like Thursday night’s 2-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche, the rookie defenseman would be a lock regular on the right side of Alain Vigneault’s third defense pairing. The question is whether McIlrath…
BY Pat Leonard
November 6, 6:42PM
DENVER – J.T. Miller’s standing with Alain Vigneault is well-documented: The Rangers coach likes Miller’s high skill and improved work ethic but won’t feel comfortable featuring him in a high-profile role regularly until Miller consistently makes “th…
BY Pat Leonard
November 5, 5:04PM
DENVER – Alain Vigneault revealed Thursday after practice at the University of Denver’s beautiful Magness Arena that he had a “quick” and frank “discussion” with Dan Boyle last week, after which the veteran defenseman understandably was “not thrilled…