With new deal and Olympic aspirations, it’s truly Tuukka time

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The 2013-14 campaign could be the most significant of Tuukka Rask’s career.

Does that sounds weird? Probably, considering he’s coming off a season in which he backstopped the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final and netted an eight-year, $56 million deal.

So let’s do some explaining.

Rask’s challenge isn’t to become one of the best young goalies in the league — now, it’s about being one of the best goalies in the league, regardless of age.

Perhaps the best.

“He’s a high-character kid and he’s only going to get better,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said in June. “He matured as a professional hockey player.

“He’s turned into an elite goaltender.”

Various circumstances have put Rask in the “elite” discussion.

Contractually, he’s one of the NHL’s highest-paid netminders. His $7 million cap hit ties him with Pekka Rinne for largest in the league, while his total salary puts him third behind Roberto Luongo ($64 million) and Jonathan Quick ($58 million).

MORE — CSN New England: B’s will ‘build around’ Rask

His numbers in 2013 were outstanding: 2.00 GAA, .929 save percentage and sharing the NHL lead (five) in shutouts — earning him top-five finish in Vezina voting. His playoff numbers (14-8, 1.88 GAA, .940 save percentage, three shutouts) were even better.

Then, there’s the Olympic angle.

Rask will be in a heated battle for Finland’s No. 1 gig in Sochi, along with Rinne, Antti Niemi (a ’13 Vezina nominee), Niklas Backstrom and Kari Lehtonen.

Assuming Rask gets the nod, it’ll be yet another opportunity to measure himself against the elite.

Olympic tournaments are tailor-made for goalies to steal the spotlight — Ryan Miller did it for the U.S. in 2010, Dominik Hasek did it for the Czechs in 1998 and, in a performance that Rask will surely hear about, Antero Niittymaki stole the show in 2006, earning top goalie and MVP honors en route to Finland’s silver medal finish.

In short, this season presents Rask with an opportunity to solidify himself among the league’s elite, become the backbone of the Bruins and represent his country on the biggest international stage.

Not that he’s going to worry about any of it.

“I was reading in the Finnish papers about how things are going to be looked at differently now because I’m making a lot of money, but it won’t be any different from my end,” Rask told CSNNE.com . “I’m still working hard on going out every game trying to prove that I’m the best.

“That would be the same whether I’m making $1 million, $4 million, $7 million or $10 million a year.”

Video: Trisha Yearwood sings national anthem for Preds-Ducks

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Keith Urban sang the national anthem for Game 3. Kelly Clarkson did the honors for the Nashville Predators before Game 4. Next up: Trisha Yearwood for Game 6.

The Predators hope to close out the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, and they got off to a nice start with Austin Watson scoring a quick 1-0 goal. Not long after, the Predators added another to build to a 2-0 lead.

Garth Brooks spoiled Yearwood’s appearance a bit before the contest.

Brooks also revealed Yearwood’s early fan creds:

Nick Ritchie ejected after boarding, bloodying Viktor Arvidsson (Video)

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Anaheim Ducks forward Nick Ritchie scored a goal in Game 4, but he won’t be able to provide such a scoring boost for his team in Game 6.

That’s because he was ejected during the first period after hitting rising Nashville Predators star Viktor Arvidsson from behind, bloodying the slick Swede.

Ritchie was whistled for a game misconduct and major. Remarkably, the Ducks killed the entire five-minute power-play opportunity, with Ryan Kesler‘s shorthanded chance being one of the better opportunities for either team.

It’s still a big blunder, but if the Ducks can get back in it, remember that big kill.

Video of the hit is coming soon. For now, check out the GIF:

Oddly, Arvidsson left the ice with a wound that more or less spelled out “R,” presumably for Ritchie, maybe celebrating the return of “Twin Peaks.”

(Such an obvious move might not be surreal enough for David Lynch, though. Alex Prewitt’s Zorro reference might be more, um, on the mark.)

Video: Predators storm off to 2-0 lead, beguile Bernier early on

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It was already loud at Bridgestone Arena, but the Nashville Predators are making it a madhouse with a strong start against the Anaheim Ducks in Game 6.

First, it was Austin Watson, who sent a puck off a Ducks skate to score a 1-0 goal on Nashville’s first shot on Jonathan Bernier, who is starting instead of John Gibson. That came about 90 seconds into the game, really revving up the crowd.

Colton Sissons scored his first goal of the Western Conference Final – on his first shot on goal of the series – to make it 2-0. At that point, Bernier had allowed two goals on three shots on goal. Bernier’s made a few stops since then, but it’s a shaky start for a Ducks team facing elimination.

There’s some solace in that Anaheim’s often at its best in dire situations, though you have to wonder how many times they can bounce back from this?

No Mike Fisher or Craig Smith for Predators in Game 6

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The Anaheim Ducks won’t have John Gibson back, but the Nashville Predators are dealing with some injury-related letdowns, too.

Craig Smith skated before Game 6, but he opted not to play on Monday. Mike Fisher is also unable to go for the Predators as they aim to eliminate Anaheim.

The Ducks also won’t have Rickard Rakell back in the mix, so this physical Western Conference Final continues to feel like a battle of attrition.

Click here for the official roster report.

Game 5 is airing on NBCSN right now. You can watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.