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WILMINGTON – If they pick the goaltenders for the Finnish Olympic team based on NHL salary-cap hits, they’ll have three solid goaltenders.
Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, Nashville’s Pekka Rinne and Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen will take up $7 million on their respective teams’ salary in the 2013-14 season.
While those might very well wind up being Finland’s three picks, San Jose’s Antti Niemi and Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom might press the issue as this season unfolds. Rask knows a ticket to Sochi, Russia isn’t a foregone conclusion even as he comes off a season that ended in the Stanley Cup finals.
“I mean, we really don’t have a clear No. 1 who’s guaranteed a spot, so it’s going to be interesting,” Rask said after an informal practice at Ristuccia Arena Tuesday. “It’s a great situation for the fans in Finland, but for us goalies, it just makes it tougher to get there. It’s a good thing for our nation for sure.”
An open audition to be on the Finnish team is just one of the many challenges that will make Rask’s world new and exciting this season. He has his new eight-year, $56 million contract to live up to. He’ll need to get to know a new backup goaltender after the departure of Anton Khudobin. And for the first time, no offense to Chad Johnson or Niklas Svedberg, he won’t be competing with a legitimate threat to his No. 1 status a la Tim Thomas or Khudobin.
It’s a new phase of Rask’s career, and the 26-year-old believes he’s equipped to keep on starring at the sport’s highest level.
“Well, yeah, I mean on the paper I guess [I’m the definite Bruins No. 1],” said Rask, who compiled a 2.00 goals-against average and .929 save percentage last season. “But once you go out there, everybody’s trying their best all the time. And I’m not going to take any practices off or any days off just because I’m a No. 1 on the paper. So nothing changes on that matter. But I think you might see it a little differently from the outside, yeah.”
Rask also doesn’t think the extra cash in his bank account is going to affect his play.
“No, I mean, it’s still the same game. Money doesn’t change anything. It’s an important season for our team and for myself too so nothing changes,” he said.
Many athletes have been swallowed up by lucrative contracts that created unbearable pressure. Rask, time and again, has proven he’s different than many athletes with his demeanor and poise in the face of even the most intense scrutiny.
If living up to his contract and putting up numbers similar to last season’s stats aren’t enough to motivate Rask this season, the Bruins could luck out with him also trying to make it to the Olympics. They’re going to need him to as great as his 2013 form, or even better, in 2013-14. So whatever drives him will be an aid to the Bruins’ cause.