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Battered Klesla plays on for Coyotes

by Corey Masisak

NASHVILLE -- The discoloration is his right eye is almost gone, and his playoff beard has grown out enough to obscure the stitches in his chin.

As the days pass, Rostislav Klesla's face is returning to normal, but the memories of a rough week in the Stanley Cup Playoffs remain. The Phoenix Coyotes' defenseman left Game 6 against Chicago in the opening round when the knob of Brendan Morrison's stick caught him in the eye as they fell to the ice near at the side of the net in the second minute.

He returned to the game and helped the Coyotes finish off the Blackhawks. After finishing Game 6 and then playing Game 1 against Nashville in this Western Conference Semifinal series with a full cage to protect his eye, Klesla decided to switch to more typical half-shield visor because he was uncomfortable with his ability to see the puck at his feet.


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It took all of 33 seconds into Game 2 at Arena for misfortune to find him again. Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter sent the puck up the ice along the left wall, and Klesla's face ended up in its flight path.

"The tempo is high and the emotions are high. Everyone is going really fast and everyone goes to the net," Klesla said. "I've kind of got unlucky with a few of those, but hopefully that is behind me and now we can just not worry about. Thank god nothing happened that was too traumatic, so that is always a good thing.

"I had a hard time seeing the puck so I went to the half-visor just to finish that game. I was like, ‘Oh wow.' It was just tough luck. It just deflected into my chin and pushed my jaw back a little bit, so I've got this one."

"This one" is an addition to the half-visor to protect his jaw -- it looks a lot like a clear facemask fit for an offensive lineman. Twice in six days, Klesla was unlucky in the early stages of a hockey game. Twice, he returned to action later in the contest.

It is the playoffs, of course, and it is going to take more than the butt end of a stick being millimeters away from doing serious damage to his eye or a piece of frozen rubber rearranging his jaw to keep Klesla out of the lineup.

"The battle scars on his face are just a reflection of the way he plays," Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival said. "He plays hard. He's not afraid to block shots and he's not going to shy from the physical play. Sometimes in hockey that's what happens. I think we all look at this and we all appreciate what he's done, playing through some tough injuries and bumps and bruises."

Added Coyotes forward Gilbert Brule: "He's a warrior right now. He's been wearing the bubble on his face. He's battling, and that give us energy when you see a guy battle like that. He could have easily been out of the games."

Klesla's determination to play through pain may inspire his teammates, but his play on the ice is also propelling the team to success. The Coyotes have two defensemen in Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson who are known for their offensive contributions, and it is part of the team's everyone-chips-in identity that they supplement the offense from the blue line.

Klesla has two goals and six points in nine games for the Coyotes in this postseason. He's tied for third on the team in points, and the only defenseman in the League with more in this playoffs is his teammate Yandle.

Rostislav Klesla
Rostislav Klesla
Defense - PHX
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 6
SOG: 19 | +/-: 0
"I've had a couple of lucky bounces," Klesla said. "I'm trying to jump in the play and join the rush when there's a chance. Good defense always leads to good offense, so if you can break up the outlet pass or stop a rush, there can be a chance to go the other way and that's how my points have kind of went. I'm still looking to play a solid game. You can try to jump in and try to create something, but you still have to be solid."

Added forward Antoine Vermette: "He's been so great. He's got some points, but that is almost a bonus to what he contributes to the team. He's been playing hard, blocking shots, doing the small things. He's competing well, and I think he makes it hard for the opponent to play."

Klesla has been paired with veteran Adrian Aucoin during the postseason. He faced the toughest opposition among Coyotes defensemen during the regular season, according to Behind the Net's Quality of Competition rating, while rotating through a few different partners.

After parts of 10 seasons in Columbus with only four playoff games on his resume, Klesla came to Phoenix before the trade deadline last year, but the Coyotes were also swept in the first round. This is Klesla's first trip to the second round of the playoffs, and it was a different kind of year for him with a team in contention for the duration of the campaign.

"It is great experience. It is what this is all about," Klesla said. "It is what you dream about -- this kind of hockey when every shift matters and every shot matters and every blocked shot matters. It is the hockey you always love to watch when you're not in it, and when you're in it, you know everyone is watching. It is such an exciting time of year. It is a great time in everybody's life."

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