WILMINGTON — It’s not as if Tuukka Rask is alone. The Bruins goaltender has others surrounding him in the standings: the Capitals’ Braden Holtby (71 games played), the Kings’ Jonathan Quick (70), the Devils’ Cory Schneider (67), and the Stars’ Kari Lehtonen (65).
With Rask (67), they make up the top five in a league that has relied heavily on No. 1 goaltenders this season. There are, in all, 11 goalies who had played at least 60 games entering Tuesday — and a few that could hit 70 by the end of the season.
That includes Rask, who might just make it to 70 Saturday against the Lightning, if he plays in each of Boston’s remaining games. That would equal his career high, set last year, between the regular season and playoffs.
And Rask would reach the mark before the playoffs even start.
“If there’s concern for him, there’s concerns for a lot of goalies in this league,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Because he’s one of many that have played a lot of games this year.
“There’s at least, I would think, 10 if not a dozen goalies that are high in numbers. Some of these goalies have even had more work than he has. So that’s the nature of the beast right now.”
Rask’s season already ranks eighth in franchise history, tied with Jack Gelineau’s 1949-50 season. Ahead of him are Byron Dafoe (1998-99) and Terry Sawchuk (1955-56) at 68 games, then Gelineau (1950-51), Jim Henry (1951-52, 1952-53, 1953-54), and Eddie Johnston (1963-64) at 70.
“What’s the record? Seventy?” asked Rask. “I’ve got to play all three to get to 70. Obviously it’s been a while since I’ve had or anybody has had this kind of workload on our team, but it’s been a different season from previous seasons, too.
“Obviously Original Six team, a lot of history. I’d like to see my name up there.”
The Bruins would have preferred that weren’t an option.
But because of a combination of the team’s situation — barely hanging on to a playoff spot in the second half of the season — and the unreliability of backup Niklas Svedberg, Rask has been forced into action more often than not.
They’re not the only ones. The Capitals, their opponents Wednesday, have used Holtby in 23 consecutive starts, the most in franchise history. Unlike the Bruins, though, the Capitals have clinched a playoff spot, which may allow them to give Holtby some rest heading into the postseason.
But other teams are still on the outside, forced to use their go-to goalie more than they might otherwise.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got about four teams right now fighting for three spots, just on our side alone,” Julien said. “The other conference is in the same kind of boat. They’ve got a lot of teams still trying to stay in, others trying to get in. So at that point you’ve got to go with your best.”
Julien has been pleased by the way his goaltender has responded. Rask has allowed just six goals in the Bruins’ last four games, all wins, with two of those coming on the power play. Overall, he ranks sixth in the league in save percentage (.924) and 10th in goals against average (2.27).
Rask, who played in 58 games last regular season, said he felt good at the end of that season, as if “I could have played 10, 15 more. Now we’re in that situation and I don’t really feel that different.”
His biggest issue, he said, is trying to stay mentally fresh, a task at which he has mostly succeeded.
“I think he’s handled it well,” said Julien. “When you look at the way he’s played lately, he’s played extremely well. So it’s not like we’re seeing really signs of fatigue on his part.”
Not that the Bruins wouldn’t like to give him a day or two off. Could they do so before the playoffs?
“Not there yet,” Julien said. “We’re really not. We’re not anywhere near where we want to be right now as far as the standings are concerned.
“If you want to give him some rest, it may be the reason that we’re out of the playoffs, then we’ll all have to answer for that. We need to do the right thing right now.”
And that, for the time being, is to play Rask.
Chara is back at it
Zdeno Chara returned to practice Tuesday after missing Monday because of a puck he took off his ankle Saturday. Chara sustained the injury while blocking a shot against the Maple Leafs, though he did not miss a shift and finished the game.
Chara said that the area felt “good” by Tuesday, and Julien said he should be able to play Wednesday at Washington.
The defenseman acknowledged that this has not been an easy season for him, with an early knee injury putting him a step behind.
“It’s never easy to come back from a major injury,” said Chara, who tore the posterior cruciate ligament of his left knee in October. “And it took me a while. It was pretty obvious. I played nine games when it happened and I came back when everybody was in midseason form, almost pretty much peaking. And I was just getting into it.
“So it was pretty obvious that when I came back I missed a big chunk of games and it was noticeable that my game wasn’t where everybody else was. But I feel that the more that I play, I was getting more comfortable and better and better.
“Obviously now that we’re finishing up the season and we need that, we need everybody playing at the top of their game and I’m trying to always increase my play.”
Dennis Seidenberg was the only Bruin absent from practice. The defenseman was “under the weather,” according to Julien, who said Seidenberg should be fine for Wednesday’s game . . . Joe Morrow, who was recalled on an emergency basis Monday, will accompany the team to Washington . . . Dougie Hamilton did not travel with the team Tuesday. Hamilton just started skating on Monday, the first time he had taken the ice since sustaining an upper-body injury Feb. 21.