Collier: Comforts of home adding up for Malone
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There's no method for accurately quantifying what Ryan Malone has meant to the Penguins since he first turned up in the glacial ice wasteland that was the winter of 2003-2004, so let's just search for perspective in the 15 points he has shoveled into the Penguins' hockey effort in this one enchanted postseason.
Of those 15 points, 12 have come on home ice, three of them yesterday in the decisive episode that sent the Flyers home alone and vaulted the Penguins into the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 16 years.
It's apparent then, that as comfortable as these gifted Penguins are on home ice, no one is so at home as Malone, but then all of Pittsburgh is Malone's home ice, all of Western Pennsylvania, all of everything that goes into the rooted and exclusively gritty ambiance of this franchise and this city.
"When it's all over, that's when the emotion will come out," Malone said yesterday after popping in two goals and assisting on a third in a 6-0 Penguins victory. "We've still got a tough road, but yeah, this was nice. My mom's here. My dad's not. He's in Phoenix, scouting. But my boy is here, and he's 14-0."
Will Malone wasn't born yesterday, but he missed it by only about three months, and if he has never seen his dad's team lose in the old Uptown barn, that merely puts comfortably among the brethren of Penguins fans who yesterday saw Michel Therrien's team win its 16th consecutive home game in front of NBC's audience, and its 12th in 14 postseason appointments.
If Will knows where to be, that's just kind of a family tradition too, because the Penguins are in the NHL final in no small part because his dad knows exactly where to be on this ice at exactly the right times, which happened so often yesterday that it had Malone linemate Petr Sykora marveling at one of the many talents Malone brings to this team.
"He's great on the power play," Sykora said. "He's a great guy to have in front of the net."
Or in back of it, or at the side of it, or at whatever angle he can do the most damage, and the damage he did yesterday left the Flyers' season totaled.
He first put himself behind Philadelphia's penalty-killers at the spot where Sidney Crosby's blast from just above the right circle would kiss his left skate and fly into the cords behind Martin Biron for a 1-0 lead. Lest anyone doubt the significance of a 1-0 Penguins lead, refer please to the Penguins' record in these playoffs when scoring first: 10-0.
Just seven minutes later, Malone confronted Biron at the left post, and in the brief scuffle that ensued, escaped not only with the puck, but left Biron without his stick, still regarded by four out of five leading goalies as a useful implement.
With Biron's stick on the ice near the end boards, with Biron in the goal mouth half naked, Malone skated the puck toward the left corner, got resistance from massive Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher, then whirled and whipped it back behind the cage to Evgeni Malkin.
Malkin wrapped it around the right goal post for a two-goal lead at 9:50 of the first period.
"[Biron] tried to poke me, or push me away," Malone said about the way Biron wound up stickless. "Hey, we'll take it."
The Penguins climbed into a 3-0 advantage on Marian Hossa's wrister 8:24 into the second, but when Malone positioned himself in the slot and deflected Sergei Gonchar's power-play blast behind Biron four minutes later, it was pretty much mandatory that this Sunday in May go into Penguins history as the day Malone provided the primary escort for the organization's third visit to the Stanley Cup final.
The build-up, particularly by national media in an interim of still-indeterminate length, will inevitably focus on the opulent offensive skills of Crosby and Malkin and Hossa, and the ongoing impenetrability of Marc-Andre Fleury, but it would be a shame if large segments on the still modest continental hockey audience came away not appreciating the importance of Malone's singular Pittsburgh ethos on the fortunes of its hockey team.
Malone certainly wasn't about to point it out when they finally led him to a podium after the game.
"We've all worked hard together and when you have 20 guys on the ice pulling in the same direction and trying to make a difference, that's the biggest thing," he said. "Personally, you just go out there, try to win your one-on-one battles, and sometimes you get the bounces."
More often than not though, you earn them.
Malone said there was nothing to celebrate at this point, and Sykora said the same thing, but there were pretty comfortable in this aspect:
"As bad as it sounds, it doesn't mean a thing," Sykora said. "I've been to three finals, and unless you win four more, it's disappointing. But I know this, too. We deserve to be where we are."
That they do, perhaps none more than No. 12.
First Published May 19, 2008 12:00 am