timthomas20x24autoThey say hard work pays off. Well, in Tim Thomas’ case tons of hard work paid off big time this spring when the Boston Bruins rewarded him with a four-year contract extension that will pay him $5 million per season — a far cry from the $1.1 million he’d been paid since his 2006 extension.

Thomas’ large payday was recognition for his efforts leading up to and during his Vezina Trophy-worthy 2008-09, plus the prime-time play the Bruins’ brass thinks Thomas can continue to produce as we head toward a new decade. Thomas’ refined mechanics blended with his relentless competitiveness made him the league leader in goals-against average and save percentage. But more important, he continued to prove he’s a winner.

Stats: 54 GP, 36-11-7, 2.10 GAA, .933 save percentage regular season; 11 GP, 7-4, 1.85 GAA, .935 save percentage playoffs.

Contract status: Signed through end of 2012-13 at $5 million cap hit.

Season highlight: Thomas pitched back-to-back shutouts at Edmonton and Vancouver in October and sparkled in the playoffs, but it was his win March 22 over New Jersey that stands out in my mind. The Bruins had lost three of their previous five games, including blowing a late lead to Los Angeles in their previous contest, when the Devils landed in the Garden hot on the trail of Boston for the top seed in the East. The Bruins were looking at a week off after the Jersey game and Thomas made sure Boston’s four goals stood up with a 41-save performance that reminded everyone that the Bruins deserved to be on top of the conference.

Season low light: In another battle of two of the top teams in the East, Thomas didn’t fare as well. After the Bruins tied the Washington Capitals late in the game Feb. 28 at the Garden, momentum seemed to be theirs heading into overtime. But just 22 seconds into the extra session, Alexander Semin’s shot from 75 feet out beat Thomas to the glove side to earn the Caps the extra point and send the Bruins’ netminder to the dressing room in embarrassment.

In summation … Thomas’ consistent high level of play all season long was remarkable, even when forced to carry the bulk of the playing time because of Manny Fernandez’s back problems.

Grade: A. The best goaltender in the NHL this season, Thomas was pulled just once (a game he still won) and won a playoff series for the first time in his NHL career.

The crystal ball says … Thomas will continue to be a pillar of the Bruins’ organization for the remainder of his career — both as a relied-upon No. 1 netminder and a mentor to prospect Tuukka Rask.