In what might have been the biggest game of the season for the Blackhawks until now, Corey Crawford didn't start in goal at Colorado.
Antti Raanta got the surprise start from Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who pointed to Raanta's win over the Avalanche earlier this season and Crawford's 3 losses.
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Raanta was good early but couldn't sustain his solid play as the Hawks lost 3-2 to the Avalanche on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center.
The loss dropped the Hawks into third place in the Central Division, 1 point behind Colorado. The Hawks are 5 points behind first-place St. Louis.
"He's played well for us all year," Quenneville told reporters when asked at the morning skate about starting Raanta. "He hasn't played in a bit and we want to get him in here. Big stage here as well. We're confident he can get the job done. He's one of those guys who works hard and goes about his business the right way.
"He's had some big stretches where he was the guy. It looks like it will definitely be a big measuring stick for him. I think he has proven he can accept the big challenge like this."
Raanta hadn't played since Jan. 28 when he was pulled in a loss at Calgary.
Raanta admitted it has been an adjustment not playing.
"Of course, you would love to play more," Raanta told reporters. "You just try to figure it out in practice, how to keep your head into it. You try to make practice like your game.
"I try not to think about it too much and just go to the rink and have fun and try to help the team win."
Raanta wasn't thinking about the importance of the game.
"Every game is big for me and the team," he said. "It's nice to play these kind of (important) games."
Raanta showed he was ready by standing tall on an early Colorado power play. Raanta made several point-blank saves with Duncan Keith in the penalty box for roughing at 53 seconds.
After all those strong saves by Raanta, he gave up a cheap one to Brad Malone with 1:36 left in the opening period. Malone beat Raanta from a terrible angle left to make it 1-0.
It became 2-0 just 19 seconds into the second period when Matt Duchene scored from the right side.
Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad scored for the Hawks.
The Hawks had all the momentum to start the third period but lost it quickly when Andrew Shaw took a bad interference penalty. It was followed by a delay of game penalty to Marcus Kruger and the Avs cashed in on the 5-on-3 advantage when Ryan O'Reilly scored what proved to be the winning goal.
"We're not out of the race for the division lead or No. 1 in the NHL," Duchene said. "We're right there. We just have to keep working hard here."
Quenneville continued to downplay the fact that the Hawks and Ava could meet in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks still want to win the Central Division.
"It could happen when you look at our division," Quenneville said. "Look at our conference and it's very competitive. But there's still 17 games to be played and a lot to be sorted out between now and the end of the season. Dallas and Minnesota are still around, too, so we'll see."
The Avs played without two of their top forwards in Peter Stastny (back) and P.A. Parenteau (knee).
The Hawks were without Marian Hossa, although Quenneville expected him back on the ice this week. Hossa has been sidelined since the March 1 game at Soldier Field with an upper-body injury.
Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov made all the tough saves in posting the victory.
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