There are a few moments before the game, before the introduction of the starting lineup, when goalie Antti Raanta of the Carolina Hurricanes drops his head, as if deep in thought.
So much can go through a man’s mind in a few seconds. For Raanta on Saturday, it surely was of his father, Pekka, who died before the season. It probably involved a vow to keep the Boston Bruins from winning Game 7 and denying the Canes in the Stanley Cup playoffs again.
A few hours later, Raanta, a man for whom smiles come easily, was beaming. The Canes beat the Bruins 3-2, holding off a late push to win the first-round series before a record crowd at PNC Arena.
“It was probably the longest 20 seconds in my life, for sure,” he said.
With the Boston net empty, the Bruins’ David Pastrnak scored with 21.7 seconds left in regulation to make it a one-goal game. Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron won the ensuing faceoff and the puck was soon in the Canes end again, Bergeron getting a shot on goal and having another blocked by Jordan Staal in a frenetic finish.
“A scramble to the end,” Raanta said. “When the buzzer sounded it was probably the best feeling in a long time. And a big relief, for sure.”
The Canes had won and the crowd of 19,513 thundered its approval. Raanta was swarmed by teammates. He went through the handshake line, always sweet when you’re on the winning side.
And then he had a postgame visitor, which was just as sweet.
Raanta was in the media room for a postgame interview when his daughter, Evelyn, bounded in and jumped into his lap.
Was that a tear? Or two? What a day. Beat the Bruins in a Game 7 and then have one of your kids come in and enjoy the moment with you.
Raanta spent most of Friday not so much worrying about hockey or the Bruins or starting his first career Game 7, but what his two kids were up to — being a dad.
“After the practice I got home and these guys make you forget the hockey and they keep you busy,” he said. “Sometimes, they’re a little too wild, but you’ll take that and you try to stay with them and be a role model. It’s awesome to go home every time because they don’t really care about if we win or lose. They’re super proud. It’s special, for sure.”
During much of the season, as Frederik Andersen won games and emerged as a Vezina Trophy candidate, Raanta was the backup goalie, ready when needed. He was needed late in the season when Andersen briefly went out with an injury, then needed again when Andersen left the April 16 game against Colorado with a lower-body injury.
With Andersen still out, Raanta made his first career playoff start and beat the Bruins in Game 1. A collision with Pastrnak in Game 2 forced him out of the game, the Canes turning to rookie Pyotr Kochetkov. But Raanta returned for Game 5, playing perhaps his best game of the series, and then was the winner Saturday in the biggest game of his career.
When the second round begins, against either Pittsburgh or the New York Rangers, Raanta will be ready, again.
“When one of the best goalies in the league goes down to injury it’s going to sting a little bit, but the team in front of me has been doing a great job and I just try to do my job,” Raanta said. “It was a chance for me to show what I can do in the big stages. Starting from Game 1 I thought my game was pretty good. And obviously today a lot of battling and grinding it out.”
Doing his job Saturday included a critical stop on a Bruins two-on-one rush in the first period, Raanta making a quick post-to-post push to deny Taylor Hall. He allowed a goal to forward Jake DeBrusk in the second period but stopped everything else, closing with 27 saves.
Raanta soon was talking about a chat he had with goaltending coach Paul Schonfelder before the game. It was about his father, Pekka, who died in August as the Canes were preparing for preseason training camp.
“I was pretty much told, ‘Whatever happens today your old man, wherever he’s watching, is super proud,’” Raanta said. “I think that was the last thing to get in your head. And whatever happens today, it was obviously great to get the win and have my kids in the stands.
“A lot of people texted me straight away. A lot of people in Finland were staying awake for today’s game. It’s great. Obviously it would be great if my dad would be here and he would see this, but he’s super happy.”
Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour was super happy for Raanta.
“I’m proud of him,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s been through a lot this year, not just physically but overall. To step in at the biggest moments and be ‘the guy,’ I’m proud of him.
“Everybody has got life outside of hockey and he’s had a tough, tough go this last year. So that makes a little bit more his story. You pull for guys like that.”