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Wednesday Night Rivalry is clash of hockey cultures

by Kevin Weekes / NHL.com

Each Wednesday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be offering his plusses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.

The Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins aren't exactly longtime rivals, but the state of Minnesota and the city of Boston have had their fair share of hockey rivalries over the years. There are arguably no two places in the United States where the game is engrained in the culture as it is in Minnesota and Boston.

The Wild and Bruins carry that culture and those rivalries from all those Minnesota and Boston boys into their Wednesday Night Rivalry game at Xcel Energy Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN). They also carry the sting of losses on Tuesday.

The Wild came back in the third period against the Chicago Blackhawks but ultimately lost 5-3. The Bruins took the Nashville Predators to a shootout but lost 3-2.

Minnesota has been on a lose-one, win-one roller coaster for the past 11 games. If that pattern holds, the Bruins are in for a long night in St. Paul.

The Bruins have had several long nights recently; they are 2-5-3 in their past 10 games and have dropped back-to-back shootouts. Shockingly they are worse this season with star defenseman and captain Zdeno Chara in the lineup (4-6-2) than without him (11-7-1).

Can the Bruins snap out of their funk against the Wild? Can the Wild rebound again after a loss?

Let's break it down:

BRUINS

Plusses: The big things for the Bruins in this game will be their physicality and having Chara back in the lineup. Those sort of go hand-in-hand, though, don't they? "Big Z" adds to Boston's physicality, which is a big advantage for the Bruins in this game.

The Bruins have to use their physicality positionally. Everything that they do when they're playing their game is about them operating their system, and that means being positionally sound and operating from the middle of the ice out. The battle needs to go to the boards when they're defending, and they're happy to be physical there too. We've seen that so many times. They have no qualms there. They battle there. They compete. They battle to regain possession.

Offensively, when they have their cycle game going, that opens up their speed game and their ability to attack. The two go hand-in-hand. They own the puck and they own the boards, and that forces a team like the Wild to play where it doesn't want to play. That plays to the Bruins' advantage, especially during the course of a 60-minute game. Even if the Bruins are playing physical and owning the boards the Wild may stop their cycle at times and go on the attack to play their possession game, but it will only happen in spurts because the Bruins are too heavy to handle.

So the gist of what I'm saying is if the Bruins play physical they will take what the Wild want to do and shove it right back at them. And ultimately the Bruins have been playing this style a lot longer than the Wild, so they know what they're doing and when they're doing it well. They are further along than the Wild, which just started playing this style last season.

Minuses: What I'm concerned about is that the Bruins aren't playing smart enough or fast enough. It's difficult to playing a fast brand of hockey when you're stuck in your zone more than you're accustomed to and when you're not defending the way you're used to. Consequently you're not attacking as much.

TALE OF THE TAPE: BRUINS-WILD
15-13-3 (6th, Atlantic) 2014-15 Record 16-12-1 (5th, Central)
2953-2253-791-124 All-Time Record 490-420-55-96
3-11-0-1 Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record 12-2-0-1
0-1-1 Streak vs. Opponent 2-0-0
1-0-1 @ Minnesota Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent 3-0-1 vs. Bruins
6 Stanley Cup Championships 0
48 Hockey Hall of Fame Members 0
Bobby Orr Most Famous Alumnus Marian Gaborik
12 Hart Trophy Winners 0
69 Postseason Appearances 5
Wes Walz (1990-92) Best Player in Common Wes Walz (2000-08)

Also, look at Boston's offensive distribution; it's not what we've seen from the Bruins in recent seasons. They don't have a game-breaker up front, but they have guys who should be playing better than they are, guys with high ceilings and high expectations. That's a frustration and that's what worries me about the Bruins this season.

The fact that their record was good when Chara was out of the lineup for 19 games is something you have to give them credit for. But I think from an overall standpoint going forward the fact that they don't have a game-breaker in their lineup is worrisome for the Bruins.

WILD

Plusses: Let's start with Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter. They're playing really well. It shows you that the Wild have guys who can score, guys who you may not be looking at as their top-end guys. That shows scoring depth.

Overall I think they have more players who can score than the Bruins have right now. That's a big-time upside for the Wild. They have more weapons.

In addition to more weapons, they have younger legs and they're faster right now than the Bruins.

But let's be for real, to beat Boston the Wild have to be willing to pay a physical price. They can't be on the perimeter. They can't be content being on the outside of the ice offensively. They have to get to the net. If they're not willing to get to the net, then their younger, faster legs and vast array of scoring options doesn't matter.

I don't know if they're willing. As they say, time will tell. I know they have guys who aren't scared, but it's not a matter of being scared, it's a matter of being committed to doing it all the time.

For example, you don't have to tell a player like Wayne Simmonds that he has to go to the net. You absolutely never have to tell him that. He's always there. He's hungry. He gets there. He's willing to be there, to stay there. You can count on that. But do you have to reinforce that message with some of the forwards on the Wild? Probably. That's not an indictment on them; that's an area where they still need to grow.

But when the Wild are at their best, they're going there and paying the physical price; willingly paying it, mind you. Look back at the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, Chicago didn't handle the Wild, Chicago barely beat the Wild even though it was a five-game series. I saw some good fight from the Wild against Chicago in the playoffs. That was because of their effort, their compete level. So you know they're capable of it, but some of their guys still need to be reminded of it.

If they get reminded of it before the game it could pay big dividends for the Wild.

Minuses: The Wild have for the better part of the season shown a power kill, not a power play. Their personnel is too good for their power play to be what it is right now. I mean, it's way too good for their power play to be this bad so far this season.

Give them credit: They have picked it up of late in the power-play department, but I think we can safely and conservatively say that the Wild have left at least six points on the table because of their power play this season. They have seven one-goal losses, and in those games their power play is a combined 3-for-26.

That has to be frustrating for them because they have way better players who need to be scoring more, and the power play is where they can get the goals.

We all know how fine of a line it is in the Western Conference to make the playoffs, so it would be nice for them to have a bit of breathing room. They'd have it with a better power play. Instead they might have to fight all season to get in just because their power play has been so bad so far.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Ryan Suter and Zdeno Chara

They're back and these guys can control the game for their respective teams. We'll have to see which one does it better?

2. Who does the Wild put up against Chara?

It'll be interesting to see what combination of forwards Minnesota coach Mike Yeo uses against Chara and whoever his defense partner is, be it Dennis Seidenberg or Dougie Hamilton. Whoever he plays against Chara has to take it as a challenge and run with it.

3. How long will Suter go?

Suter missed two games and seems fresher and healthier than he was before he left, so don't be shocked if he plays north of 30 minutes in this game, even in the second of back-to-back games. He's broken the 30-minute mark several times this season.

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