Ryan MaloneBy Michael Farber, 

His eyes hath seen the gory.

Ryan Malone was there for the 58-point season prior to the NHL lockout, the last-place divisional finishes, the rank embarrassment of the billboards around his hometown that proclaimed the Pittsburgh Penguins' "X Generation" and featured Marc-André Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Ramzi Abid, Rico Fata and Guillaume Lefebvre but not Malone because five years ago he wasn't even good enough to elbow his way into that dodgy company. He was there when the Penguins were almost sold, when it looked like the franchise might be headed to Kansas City or maybe even southern Ontario, when Ed Olczyk was fired as coach, when new coach Michel Therrien publicly ripped the team, when Hall of Fame general manager Craig Patrick was fired and when his father, Greg Malone, a Penguins stalwart in the late 1970s and early 1980s and later its head scout, walked away two years ago to scout for Phoenix. Malone is an encyclopedia of the good, the bad and especially the crazy that has infested the Penguins through the years.

And now he will see the glory of a Stanley Cup final before he likely walks away from the Penguins after the summer.

The left winger will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 and with Evgeni Malkin's personal Brink's truck idling outside the security gate at Mellon Arena, there is almost no chance Pittsburgh will be able to re-sign one of their alternate captains. The so-called Steel City Line - Malone, Malkin, from the Pittsburgh of Russia, Magnitogorsk, and Petr Sykora, who played with Malkin there during the 2004-05 lockout - will drift into the memory bank where all great sports nicknames go.

But there can be no better final go-around than this: a chance at the brass ring and the silver Cup, a cushy berth for a once beleaguered franchise that Malone helped secure with a transcendent Game 5 Sunday.

The Penguins, who have not lost at home since February, dispatched their bitter intra-state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-0, with the help of the usual suspects. The backchecking Sidney Crosby, exhibiting leadership qualities to match his all-world talent, stripped nemesis Mike Richards of the puck to negate a Philadelphia scoring chance and seconds later made a sweet backhand pass to Marian Hossa for the third Pittsburgh goal; Fleury made a spectacular toe save on a point-blank Scott Hartnell rebound attempt among his 21 stops when the game was at least mildly competitive; Malkin, awakening from his one-assist and seven-shot slumber of the past three games, found his rightful place on the scoresheet with a wraparound goal; and Hossa, a playoff cipher no more, had a goal and three assists. But on a viscerally confident team that didn't dress a single straggler, Malone was more impressive than any Penguin.

Malone, so effective Therrien occasionally double-shifted him on the fourth line, figured in three of the Pittsburgh goals in a game so lopsided the sold-out Mellon Arena crowd ran out of original taunts to hurl at the Flyers late in the second period. While Malone lucked into the opening power-play goal fewer than three minutes into the match -- Crosby's shot from the right point caromed off his shin past Flyers goalie Martin Biron -- the others were the handiwork of skill and not serendipity.

On Pittsburgh's second goal seven minutes later, Malone wound up entangled with Biron behind the Flyers net, pinning the goalie's stick along the boards. Malone then corralled the puck and banked a blind, backhand pass off the end boards to Malkin, who had an easy time stuffing the puck behind the stickless and nearly defenseless Biron. And in the second period with Philadelphia's Jeff Carter in the penalty box, Malone set up in the high slot and deftly tipped Sergei Gonchar's wrist shot from the point, a one-hopper that scooted through the goalie.

Considering the rollercoaster ride to the final and a journey that is likely nearing an end, Malone, who accepted post-game congratulations in the dressing room from Penguins chairman Mario Lemieux, was delighted but hardly wistful. "To be part of the team now, four years ago, where we were, Craig rebuilding the team Ray coming in and adding the extra pieces ... " mused Malone, who clearly was more comfortable looking forward than back even while conceding he remembers the New York Islanders second-round upset of Pittsburgh in 1993 as much as he does the back-to-back Cups the previous years. "Fans have been patient, and so far so good."

The last time Pittsburgh won a Cup, in 1992, a 12-year-old Malone, clad in a Penguins jersey, sat in the stands with his father at the Igloo for all the home playoff games.

Now he gets to wear that sweater on the road for the Stanley Cup.


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