With Boston's Tim Thomas taking season off, Tuukka Rask ready to be Bruins' top goaltender

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BOSTON - Tuukka Rask was caught off guard—just a little—when he heard fellow Bruins goalie Tim Thomas decided not to play next season.

Surprised? Yes.

Shocked? Not so much.

"I wasn't expecting him to do that, obviously," Boston's new starting goalie said Thursday at a charity event. "But I really appreciated what he's done and I appreciate his decision to want to be with the family and take some time off hockey.

"It really didn't shock me that much, but I'm more sad to see him leave because we had a really good connection and friendship going on. But I'm sure he's happy now where he is, and gets to spend time with his family."

And so the Bruins—one year removed from winning the Stanley Cup—journey on with Rask in net.

It's not a bad option, of course, just a different one.

Rask, after all, had a 2.05 goals-against average in 25 games last season after posting a 2.67 in 29 games in 2010-11. The previous season, he was stellar—registering a 1.97 clip—in 45 games, and even played more than Thomas as the pieces of what would become a championship team were still coming into place.

Still only 25, Rask will be a restricted free agent after this season, should he and the club not come to a long-term agreement. He avoided salary arbitration by signing a one-year contract worth $3.5 million, more than double the $1.5 million he made last season. Other goalies in similar situations signed longer deals, but Rask and management agreed to see how his first season as the No. 1 plays out before negotiating again.

"A lot of people were a little surprised about the contract and stuff," he said after visiting children at the Jimmy Fund Clinic of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "But I can't tell the team that I want a long contract because I am at the age where I would have gone to arbitration.

"So we just figured that it's best for both of us. And then if I have a good year, then maybe (I'll) sign up a longer deal."

Under the current collective bargaining agreement, Rask can be a restricted free agent again after next season, but that can change depending on the results of the labour situation. The current CBA expires on Sept. 15, and the season is slated to start on Oct. 11. Talks between the NHL and NHLPA will continue next week in New York.

Thomas played every minute of the Bruins' 2011 run to the Stanley Cup. Then he played all seven games of the first-round ouster last season by Washington. The latter came after the Bruins won 49 games in a grueling season that resulted in a Northeast Division crown and the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. So, it's been a grind for Thomas, 38. The last three post-season series Boston has played, in fact, have gone the distance.

Thomas plans to sit out the final year of his contract, but hopes to return the following season and earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He was on Team USA in 2010 in Vancouver.

"Everybody knew he was a little tired, because he played a lot the past two years," Rask said. "But he didn't seem like he was exhausted mentally or anything like that."

Anton Khudobin is in line to be Rask's backup if and when training camp opens.

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