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Bruins, Tuukka Rask strike long-term deal

Tuukka Rask is one of the Bruins’ three most important players. Starting in 2013-14, Rask’s salary will reflect his standing alongside Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.

On Wednesday, Rask agreed to a eight-year, $56 million extension. The contract will become official on Friday, the first day new deals can be signed for 2013-14 and beyond.

Rask’s $7 million annual average value puts him in the company of Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (seven years, $49 million). The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, who will become an unrestricted free agent after the 2013-14 season, could trump their salaries with his next contract.

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For Rask, the megadeal underscores that he and agent Bill Zito made the right call last summer by signing a one-year, $3.5 million extension. At the time, the Bruins wanted to lock up Rask to a multiyear deal, but Rask bet on himself by taking the temporary bridge extension. He was right.

In his first crack at being the ace from start to finish (albeit in a 48-game season), Rask proved he is one of the NHL’s elite goalies. During the regular season, Rask went 19-10-5 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He posted an NHL-leading five shutouts.

Despite his regular-season performance, Rask was not one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy. Columbus’s Sergei Bobrovsky (21-11-6, 2.00 GAA, .932 save percentage) beat out Lundqvist (24-16-3, 2.05, .926) and San Jose’s Antti Niemi (24-12-6, 2.16, .924).

But Rask made a strong push for the Conn Smythe Trophy, going 14-8 with a 1.88 GAA and .940 save percentage. He recorded three shutouts, two during the third-round sweep of the explosive Penguins. Rask helped keep Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla, and Kris Letang off the scoresheet through four games.

The contract reflects the Bruins’ belief that Rask’s best performance is yet to come. Rask is 26, four years younger than Rinne. Rask is a perfect fit for coach Claude Julien’s defense-first system. Given his age, pedigree, and accomplishments, Rask could challenge former colleague Tim Thomas as the sharpest goalie in team history. Internationally, Rask could own Finland’s net for several Olympic cycles, including the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Rask was originally Toronto’s first-round pick in 2005. But the Bruins pulled off a bank job when swiping Rask from the Maple Leafs for Andrew Raycroft on June 24, 2006. At the time, the Bruins had hired general manager Peter Chiarelli from Ottawa, but he was still under Ottawa’s employment. Interim GM Jeff Gorton was at the Boston helm when the Bruins acquired Rask.

In 2009-10, Rask’s first full NHL season, he displaced Thomas as the No. 1 goalie. In 45 games, Rask went 22-12-5 with a 1.97 GAA and .931 save percentage. Rask backstopped the Bruins to a first-round win over Buffalo, but faded in the second round against Philadelphia.

Rask was Thomas’s understudy in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and did not appear in any playoff games in either season. Rask suffered a groin injury on March 3, 2012, that made him unavailable for five of the seven playoff games against Washington.

The Bruins will likely enter new season with Chad Johnson backing up Rask after Anton Khudobin left as an unrestricted free agent. Khudobin joined Carolina, and the Bruins agreed to a deal with Johnson, the former Phoenix backup.

Johnson went 2-0-2 with a 1.221 GAA and a .954 save percentage for the Coyotes in 2013. The 27-year-old could be Rask’s No. 2 in 2013-14 if the Bruins want Niklas Svedberg to play another season in Providence.

As a first-year North American pro, Svedberg, 23, went 37-8-2 with a 2.17 GAA and .925 save percentage in Providence.

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