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Goalie Antti Raanta has gone from IceHog to top dog

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DALLAS — Antti Raanta stood by his stall in the dressing room at American Airlines Center, conducting his second wave of interviews, casually leaning against the wall with his right foot crossed over his left. If the magnitude of the situation — from minor-league goalie to the No. 1 guy on the top team in the league in a matter of weeks — was weighing on him, he wasn’t showing it.

“It’s pretty weird to think that one month ago, I was still in Rockford, and now I’m here and everybody’s putting me into the net,” the affable Finn said. “That’s pretty nice to think about.”

It’s Raanta’s net. For now and for the rest of 2013, most likely.

Corey Crawford will miss two or three weeks, according to coach Joel Quenneville, with what a source said was a groin injury suffered while making a pad save Sunday against Florida. So for the rest of the month, the Hawks — who entered the season with two Stanley Cup-winning goalies in Crawford and Nikolai Khabibulin — will lean on Raanta, and newcomer Kent Simpson, who was called up from Rockford on Monday.

Raanta, who improved to 4-0-1 after the Hawks’ 6-2 win over the Stars, feels he’s up to the challenge.

“It’s pretty nice to get games, but I just have to keep working hard and keep earning the minutes still, even though I maybe have the No. 1 spot now,” he said.

Of course, the Hawks also could pursue a free-agent goaltender, or make a trade. Names such as Ray Emery — who failed to win the starting job in Philadelphia — and Ryan Miller, a perpetual piece of trade bait in Buffalo may sound appealing, but likely would come at a high cost. General manager Stan Bowman told the Sun-Times that he hadn’t sent any feelers out, but that Wednesday’s previously scheduled pro scout meetings will be an opportunity to discuss possible fits.

But for now, it’s the Raanta and Simpson show.

“We’re going to give them a chance,” Bowman said. “If there’s a way to improve the goaltending position after we come up with some names, then we’ll look into it. But there’s nothing imminent.”

Simpson, a 21-year-old second-round pick in the 2010 draft, participated in his first morning skate. Quenneville wouldn’t commit to if and when Simpson would get a start, but said, “I know he deserves a chance.”

Simpson was 6-7-0 with a 3.38 goals-against average and .900 save percentage with the IceHogs this season. He spent most of last year with Toledo of the ECHL, going 20-14-5 with a 2.36 GAA and .912 save percentage.

“That’s what you work all summer and your whole life for, is to get this opportunity to show that you can play at this level, show that this is where you want to be, and this is where you belong,” Simpson said.

Simpson was actually the Hawks’ top goalie in training camp, allowing four goals in 120 minutes of scrimmage time. Crawford, by comparison, allowed eight. That’s all Quenneville really has seen of Simpson, and while it’s not much, it’s at least something.

“He started off camp and was ahead of everybody,” Quenneville said. “So it’ll be a chance for him. We get to see him in practice first and see how he progresses.”

Simpson has no idea how long his stay will be, or how much (if at all) he’ll get to play. For now, he’s just trying to take it all in.

“[I can] learn a lot,” he said. “Even just the way the guys prepare for a skate, the way they cool down after a skate, the lifestyle on the road, at home, how they eat, how they prepare, all the little things that they do so well here. I’m just trying to soak it all in, really.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



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