Patrice Bergeron, Jimmy Howard

Red Wings and Bruins take wildly different paths to success

It’s understandable that sports teams attempt to “Keep up with the Joneses” by instituting copy-cat strategies to get an edge in the uncertain world of professional athletics. Yet that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to see every NFL team institute its own version of the “Wildcat offense.”

(This compulsion to follow trends and conventional wisdom is especially disappointing when a brilliant or truly different team dilutes what makes it special and successful to try to win like everyone else. I’m looking at you, 2010-11 Washington Capitals and trading-for-Shaquille-O’Neal-era Phoenix Suns.)

For anyone who wants proof that there’s more than one way to skin the cat in hockey, just look at today’s Game of the Week between the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. These two teams institute strategies that or almost diametrically opposed, yet each squad leads their respective divisions and has a legitimate chance at a deep playoff run.

In this corner: “The Big Bad Bruins.”

Some absolute unintentional comedy took place when Bruins fans chanted “U-S-A!” as the Canadian-heavy Bruins pummeled the American-heavy Canadiens last week. It might have been more accurate for the fans to show a semblance of solidarity by chanting “North America!” because the Bruins provide a solid embodiment of that grittier style of play.

This post gets deeper into the details about Boston’s increase in fisticuffs, but to make a long story short, the team is tied for second place in major penalties this season. It’s not as if there’s no reason to their violent rhymes, either; the Bruins don’t take an outrageous amount of minor penalties when they’re trying to behave.

Boston walks an interesting line between chaos and controlled aggression, making them a team that is becoming a nightmare to play against.

In that corner: The high-skill Red Wings.

The Red Wings can be a nightmare to play against too, but it’s because world-class players such as Pavel Datsyuk can make you look stupid (as opposed to simply slapping you stupid).

While the Tampa Bay Lightning made a big fuss about keeping their gloves on this season, Detroit obviously laid out that template for Steve Yzerman & Co. The Red Wings only have eight major penalties this year, the least in the league by five. In fact, you need to combine their major totals for the last four seasons to top Boston’s current 2010-11 output (60 to 56, if you’re wondering).

Yup, the common assumption seems accurate: the Red Wings really do avoid fighting and taking penalties, preferring to hurt opponents by lighting up the scoreboard on the power play rather than solving issues by dropping their gloves.

Other differences

In the grand scheme of things, the Red Wings often play a very “European” style. They rely on positioning and clever stick work to befuddle opponents in their own end, although their team defense has declined a bit. Most of all, they rely on their outstanding forwards to use their skill and intelligence to beat opponents. Meanwhile, the Bruins are a great example of the “North American” style. They seem at home when it comes to gritty play, getting in fights and playing a dump-and-chase system.

Detroit got a hearty first laugh with their dominant 6-1 win on Friday, but this afternoon’s game should be another interesting clash between two very different clubs. Considering the talent and quality coaching on both sides, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these two polar opposites collide again, either.

Only next time, it would be for the Stanley Cup.

Boudreau knows he can only do so much to avoid slump after bye week

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Minnesota Wild looks on during the game against Winnipeg Jets on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) The remarkably slump-proof Minnesota Wild will have their season-long stability challenged next week.

That’s when the Western Conference leaders come back from their bye, the five-day gap on every team’s schedule gained by the NHL Players Association as a concession for the new All-Star Game format.

The league’s current cumulative post-bye record is a woeful 4-12-4 with 10 teams, including the Wild, yet to test their ability to avoid coming back rusty. Coaches and managers around the NHL have not hidden their disdain for the debut of the scheduling quirk amid the grind of an 82-game season where momentum is an intangible benefit.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t sound worried, even after losing Tuesday to the Chicago Blackhawks, the lead chaser in the race for the top seed in the playoffs.

“I told them to, quite frankly, get some rest and enjoy this break but want to get home to play hockey,” Boudreau said. “For 4+ months now, you guys have done a tremendous job, and we’ve got something special going on, potentially. So it’s great to get away for a couple days, but the desire to play has got to be there. Not like, `Uh, I want to stay on vacation. I want to stay here.’ You’ve got to want to come back and play, and if we do that then I think we’ll be fine.”

For the players on this team, the best in Wild history, letting body and mind melt away at a tropical beach with a significant postseason run in plain sight is a rather unfathomable scenario.

“What kind of message can you really give `em?” Boudreau said. “I mean, they’re 39-14.”

Including the six overtime or shootout losses, the Wild have 84 points to rank one behind the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals. They’ve played one fewer game than the Blackhawks and lead their playoffs nemesis by five points. The Wild need 21 points in their last 23 games to beat the 2006-07 franchise record.

Boudreau inherited a team that qualified for the postseason in each of the last four years but endured wild swings in its quality of play during the five seasons in which Mike Yeo was the head coach. This time, the Wild are 14-3-2 following a loss, either regulation or extra time, to stop those long losing streaks in their tracks.

“I think that’s due to our depth and our understanding of how we need to play and being able to get big plays from everybody,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said recently. “We believe we can win every game. We feel we should win every game. And so when we lose one, we get back to what we’ve been doing.”

The next challenge comes Monday when the Los Angeles Kings visit Xcel Energy Center. Perhaps losing to the Blackhawks will prove to be good timing, particularly given the way the Wild overcame a sluggish second period to finish strong and nearly rally to tie the game before an empty-netter gave Jonathan Toews and Chicago a 5-3 victory.

“We wanted to go into the break with a good feeling, so that one is going to hurt a little bit,” right wing Mikael Granlund said. “We know we have to make sure we recharge our batteries and come back stronger.”

WATCH LIVE: Capitals at Flyers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals checks Brandon Manning #23 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” on NBCSN features the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers.

Both teams have been stumbling a bit here and there. The Flyers only have three wins since Jan. 31, though one of them came in their last game on Sunday. The Capitals lost both games since returning from their bye week.

The cost of struggles are easier for Washington to stomach, naturally. They’d rather make their Metropolitan Division lead insurmountable, but even so, they’re at least three points ahead of everyone else and have played the same or fewer games as their divisional peers.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. Right now they’re on the outside looking in.

So both teams want this one, but the desperation level is higher for Philly. We’ll see how that impacts the game on NBCSN tonight. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Pre-game reading: NHLers sound off on poor ice conditions

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— Up top, Danny Briere recalls that famous line brawl between the Flyers and Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. The two Pennsylvania rivals meet again Saturday, outdoors at Heinz Field.

— It has not been a good year for NHL ice, and a number of players are starting to get fed up. For example, Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who said, “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place.” Guess we know how he’ll be filling out his survey. (ESPN)

— The days leading up to the trade deadline can be pretty stressful for players who may get moved. And if they do get moved, the days after can be pretty tough, too. “I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” said Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, who’s been dealt three straight years at the deadline. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.” (The News & Observer)

— On the 2017 NHL draft, which may not have the star power of the last two drafts, but will still have some pretty good players available. Especially centers. (USA Today)

— San Jose’s Brent Burns is trying to become only the second defenseman in NHL history to win a scoring title. With 64 points, Burns is only three points back of Connor McDavid for the league lead, with Sidney Crosby in the mix as well. Bobby Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the last time in 1974-75 when he piled up 135 points in 80 games for the Boston Bruins.  (Canadian Press)

— Another Shark, Joe Thornton, is just two assists from 1,000 in the NHL. Only 12 players have accomplished that, with Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers leading the way. Joe Sakic’s 1,016 are the closest to Thornton’s 998. (The Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

Ryan Callahan
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Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.