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Ryan Malone shakes off bumps, bruises as Tampa Bay Lightning prepares to battle Boston Bruins in East final

Ryan Malone, left, is in a familiar spot: battling in front of the net with the Penguins’ Paul Martin in the first playoff round.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ryan Malone, left, is in a familiar spot: battling in front of the net with the Penguins’ Paul Martin in the first playoff round.

TAMPA

Officially, there is nothing wrong with Ryan Malone.

The surgically repaired knee? Knee's fine. The muscle pull? Old news. And if a jagged bone was sticking through his skin? Nothing but a flesh wound.

Officially, there is no reason Malone barely has practiced this week. No reason he spent more than an hour in the trainer's room while everyone else was dressing Thursday.

Bumps, bruises and lacerations don't count. Sprains, strains and contusions are occupational hazards.

"That's the price you pay. You wear them with pride," Malone said, grinning, after emerging from the trainer's room with a towel around his waist.

"If you're a hockey player and you don't have stitches in your face or a broken nose or you're not missing some teeth, I don't know about you."

And so today the gauze comes off. The aspirins are swallowed, the stick is held, and the Lightning's biggest forward prepares to take up residence in front of the Boston net.

On a team with some of the NHL's more flashy scorers, Malone is the one-man brute squad: the guy who stands his ground near the crease and waits for pucks and punches.

That he obviously hurt himself in Game 5 of the Pittsburgh series is irrelevant. His number of shifts is up, and he has scored three goals in his past six games.

"I don't know if the guy knows what pain is, to be honest with you," said coach Guy Boucher. "He's very courageous going to the net and blocking shots, being first on the puck and getting hit hard to make the play happen. That's his trademark. That's who he is. And certainly a lot of our players take a lot from that.

"Before the year started, I heard all kinds of things about how this guy is a warrior. And through the big games this year, I saw it. And in the playoffs he's just been incredible."

If possible, even more is now necessary from Malone. The Bruins have size. They have a toughness on defense. They have maybe the hottest goaltender in hockey.

And as quick as Marty St. Louis is, as wicked as Steven Stamkos' shot is, as creative as Vinny Lecavalier is, the Lightning is going to need some garbage goals in this series.

Tampa Bay will need a player who is willing to stand in front of Tim Thomas and block his vision. The Lightning will need someone willing to wait for deflections, rebounds and loose pucks. That is the career Malone, 31, has carved out for himself in the NHL.

"He's been a horse his whole career," Stamkos said. "And that's the kind of guy you need."

It is an odd way to make a living, inviting punishment and expecting pain. Naturally, Malone says it's not that bad, that before rule changes, there were more punches in the back of the head and heavy cross-checks than today.

If that's true, why don't more guys stand their ground in front of the net?

"The pucks are still coming at you pretty good. It's not usually safe in that area," Malone said. "The way shots come these days, especially with people tipping pucks, sooner or later you're going to get one in the head."

Like the one that broke his nose when he was in the playoffs with the Penguins in 2008? Or the one that broke his jaw when he was playing in Europe during the lockout in '05?

Still, this is the style the 6-foot-4 Malone must play. This is why the Lightning signed him to a seven-year, $31.5 million contract three years ago. And this may be why Tampa Bay struggled so much in March when Malone was sidelined.

Boucher suggested it was no coincidence that Tampa Bay was 32-22 in games Malone played and 14-14 when he was out of the lineup in the regular season.

Even though he was limited to a career-low 14 goals, Malone creates scoring opportunities by disrupting the defense in front of the net.

Essentially, he plays the puck like a goaltender, moving from side to side to screen the play and be in position to deflect shots, all the while fending off sticks and shoves.

"You take your beating, and you keep moving," Malone said. "The main thing is to keep giving back and keep going back."

For a moment, Malone is silent, almost as if he's working out a better explanation in his head. And then the perfect depiction occurs to him.

"My son (Will) is 3, and he's realizing it," Malone said. "He whacked the 1-year-old with his stick across the shin and then told him, 'It's okay, Cooper. It's hockey.' "

Yes, it certainly is.

Ryan Malone shakes off bumps, bruises as Tampa Bay Lightning prepares to battle Boston Bruins in East final 05/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 13, 2011 2:55am]

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