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Coyotes vs Predators - 2012 Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals

Klesla showing off his offensive skills

Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With his new helmet visor protecting an eye that met up with the butt end of a stick in Chicago six days ago and a sudden explosion of offensive prowess, Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla has picked up a new nickname among his three Czech teammates and friends.

Rostislav Klesla
Defense - PHX
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6
SOG: 16 | +/-: 1
"Oh, you mean 'Nicklas Klesla' over there?" Phoenix sniper Radim Vrbata said, talking loud enough for the next three locker stalls in "Czech Corner" to hear. "Did you see the goal celebration he has? I remember that from when we were in juniors when he used to score 50 points a year. Don't let him fool you. He knows what do to with that puck."

It's been more than a decade since Klesla was the fourth player taken in the 2000 NHL Draft, as much for the offense he could deliver than his ability to be physical and defend against skilled players. He's never lived up to those offensive projections. But during these playoffs, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound shot blocker and crease-clearer has enjoyed a flashback to the old days when goals were a surprise and points were expected.

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Coyotes used to working overtime in postseason

Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Phoenix Coyotes' first-ever foray into the Western Conference Semifinals looked a lot like the formula that got them their first-ever series win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Timely goals from unlikely sources. An ugly overtime game-winner. And a whole lot of spectacular play from Mike Smith in between.

Seven games into the postseason, the Coyotes haven't been particularly happy with any of their five wins. But in the immortal words of "Bull Durham" hero Nuke LaLoosh – "Winning ... it's like, you know, better than losing?"

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Coyotes and Predators are mirror images

Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They have flirted with financial troubles and been rumored to be headed for relocation. They have relied on a strong work ethic, a shrewd front office, smart coaching and tremendous goaltending to fight and succeed against established organizations with high-priced skilled players.

They have tried to make their sport work in areas where frozen ponds only exist indoors and hockey talk often is a foreign language.

The Phoenix Coyotes? The Nashville Predators? Try both.

Pekka Rinne and Mike Smith, Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz, the Grand Ole Opry and the Grand Canyon. Even the team logos are similar -- both feature a fierce and hungry mammal. And now two teams with so much in common can add Western Conference semifinalists to the list.

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Coyotes hope for real home-ice advantage

Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When they moved from Winnipeg to Phoenix in 1996, the Coyotes brought the Jets' time-tested "White Out" playoff tradition in Arizona – encouraging fans to dress in white, whitewash their possessions and body parts and turn the arena into a blizzard while the 100-degree heat seared outside.

But over the last three years, fans of the opposing Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks have done everything possible to thwart the efforts of the locals -- infiltrating the White Out with their colors and leaving Jobing.com Arena looking as if a super-sized bottle of Visine was needed to "get the red out."

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Strong play earned Klein deserved attention

John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

Kevin Klein
Defense - NSH
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 1 | PTS: 3
SOG: 6 | +/-: 2

Nashville Predators defenseman Kevin Klein might not wear a letter on the front of his jersey, but if he is not officially a leader, at least he is a trend-setter.

Two months ago he started wearing his hair in a Mohawk. To begin the Western Conference Quarterfinals, fellow defensemen Francis Bouillon and Roman Josi followed suit. Now that the Predators have advanced to the conference semifinals, teammates Hal Gill, Nick Spaling, Matt Halischuk and Brandon Yip have jumped on the trend.

While Klein has set the tone in the coiffure department, he also has helped do so on the back end from an offensive perspective. He netted two goals in five games in the opening round, both of them off the rush and of the highlight-reel variety.

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Smith and Rinne are keys to their teams' success

Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
RECORD: 4-2-0
GAA: 1.81 | SVP: 0.950

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They combined for 81 wins this season. Both finished in the top 10 in games played, minutes played, total saves, save percentage and shutouts -- and both are the focal point of teams built on defense and constructed from the net out.

When the Nashville Predators and Phoenix Coyotes meet in the Western Conference Semifinals beginning Friday, Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Phoenix's Mike Smith will be the centers of attention, in the eye of the storm and most likely the major reason one team will reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

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Coyotes know big guns have to produce vs. Nashville

Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz.Radim Vrbata, who led the Phoenix Coyotes with 35 goals this season, had one point – an assist – in six playoff games against the high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks.

That was one more point than a banged-up Lauri Korpikoski had. Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, who combined for 46 goals during the regular season, managed one each.

Phoenix’s top four goal-scorers this season combined for just two goals against the Blackhawks. But thanks to strong series from Antoine Vermette and Keith Yandle, yeomen efforts from foot soldiers like Mikkel Boedker, Gilbert Brule and Rostislav Klesla -- and a Herculean one by goalie Mike Smith -- the Coyotes beat Chicago in six games and the franchise has reached the second round of the playoffs for only the third time in the last 30 years.

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Coyotes get warm welcome home after beating Hawks

Jerry Brown - NHL.com Correspondent

PHOENIX -- Shane Doan isn't the only one around here who has been waiting 15 years to win a playoff series.

And once it happened, the long-suffering fans of the Phoenix Coyotes weren't about to let the moment pass without saluting their heroes – standing in 100-degree heat to enjoy their place in the sun.

About 400 fans ranging from age 2 to 77 were waiting at Sky Harbor Airport on Tuesday when the team returned to the Valley after beating the Chicago Blackhawks 4-0 in Game 6 – snapping a string of 13 straight playoff series dating back to 1987 and the long-ago days of the Winnipeg Jets and $1-a-gallon gasoline.

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Poile thinks Predators are primed for long run

John Manasso - NHL.com Correspondent

With his team being the first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to advance to the next round and still awaiting its next opponent, Nashville Predators general manager David Poile said on Monday that the present is "new territory for me."

For the second year in a row, Nashville is enjoying some postseason success. But as Poile mentioned, this is new, since the Preds' first-round opponent was Detroit, an organization that Poile expressed great respect and admiration for and which he said Nashville has tried to model itself after.

"The fact they've made the playoffs 21 years in a row in the cap era with parity is so hard to ever duplicate that again," he said. "The fact that they're in our division, so many people from Michigan are here in Nashville. Clearly, they've been our No. 1 rival right from day one. Playing and beating the Red Wings is one of the more important things in our organization."

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