RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Rod Brind'Amour felt comfortable all season distributing the Carolina Hurricanes' goaltending load primarily between a pair of reliable veterans who were good enough to push his team to the league's second-best record.
Things have looked different by necessity through the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far.
Carolina leaned on Antti Raanta through most of the first round with Frederik Andersen recovering from an illness, then Andersen started every game of the second round with Raanta battling his own ailment.
Each played well in those longer stints and is healthy now with the Hurricanes set to face the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Final, leaving their coach with a decision ahead of the best-of-seven series.
“When they're both healthy, now I have a good couple of options — we know that," Brind'Amour said. "In both series, we didn’t really have that option. It was kind of like: OK, thankfully one guy was healthy so you run them out there.
“Hopefully they’ll both be good and we’ll see where it goes, if we end up using them both or not. It's an option for sure that I’m definitely happy to use.”
Andersen and Raanta combined to start 59 of 82 regular-season games, with 23-year-old Pyotr Kochetkov working as the third option. That group backstopped a defense that ranked second behind Boston by allowing 210 goals (2.56 per game).
A season earlier, Andersen and Raanta combined to secure the Williams M. Jennings Trophy awarded to the netminders who played in a minimum of 25 games for a team that allowed the fewest goals in the league, with Andersen working as the No. 1 goalie on the way to 35 wins.
With this season's rotation, Raanta never started more than five straight regular-season games and Andersen never started more than three straight. The hope was that avoiding workhorse loads would keep them fresh and minimize injury risks for a team known for using its aggressive forecheck to win puck battles, maintain possession and keep the pressure on opponents at the opposite end of the ice.
“Every guy had their moments a little bit, where you play a little bit more,” Raanta said of the regular-season rotation. “So I don't mind that. It's obviously good for me to kind of get in that rotation, but sometimes it's easier if you get a couple of games in a row and you kind of work your game a little bit.
“I didn't mind that. It was nice to get that and get some games, so obviously that worked well for me.”
In the first round against the New York Islanders, Raanta started the first five games, with Andersen dressing twice but missing three games because of an illness. He won three, posting a 2.59 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage.
Andersen got the call in the Game 6 clincher and allowed one goal in the overtime win. He followed that by starting all five games of the second round against the New Jersey Devils as Raanta came down with his own illness, a flu-like bug that Raanta said ran through his household from kids to adults.
Andersen allowed six goals during his five wins in six playoff starts.
These games mark his first postseason starts with Carolina since signing a two-year deal in July 2021 after a five-season run with Toronto. He missed last year's playoffs with a lower-body injury suffered late in the regular season that pushed Raanta in a load-carrying postseason role. So his two series-clinching wins are his first since helping the Anaheim Ducks reach the 2015 Western Conference Final.
“I'm just having fun with playing, I think that's the biggest takeaway for me,” Andersen said after Thursday's 3-2 overtime win to eliminate the Devils in five games. “We've talked about it before, but I've waited a few years to get this opportunity. I'm just making the best of it and enjoying it.”
Carolina took Friday off after closing out New Jersey, returned to practice Saturday, then was off again Sunday with the series schedule still to be determined into the weekend. Andersen had a rest day Saturday while Raanta and Kochetkov worked in net during the practice at PNC Arena.
Whoever gets the Game 1 call, the rest of the Hurricanes will be ready to back him.
“It really doesn’t change as a team-wise, as a player, as an individual," center Sebastian Aho said. “You just go out there and try to do your own job and you don’t worry about that much, because we’ve been in good hands either way.”
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