For a long time, Ryan Malone sat in full uniform at his stall in the Penguins locker room at old Mellon/Civic Arena. Someone brought him a towel to sop up the emotion that overwhelmed him to the point that he couldn't speak.

Malone had a pretty fair idea that he had just played his final game for his hometown Penguins, and it was a gut-wrenching, 3-2 loss to Detroit in a deciding Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.

That was June 4, 2008. A few weeks later, the Upper St. Clair native signed with Tampa Bay after the Lightning traded a draft pick to the Penguins for his rights before he became a free agent.

Malone will be back in town Wednesday with the Lightning, which opens a first-round playoff series against the Penguins, the first postseason game at Consol Energy Center.

His emotions will be running high again but with a decidedly different flavor.

"Every time you play against your old team, you have that weird feeling or whatever you want to call it. It will be fun to get a chance to play them in the playoffs," the power forward said.

For that matter, he and his Tampa Bay teammates are thrilled to be back in the postseason against anyone, anywhere.

"It will make me very happy to be back in the playoffs," Malone said. "I haven't had that chance since I was in Pitt. From that experience, that's what hockey is all about."

The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, just before the NHL shut down for a season because of labor negotiations. When play resumed, Tampa lost in the first round in '06, to Ottawa and in '07, to New Jersey. It failed to make the playoffs the past three seasons.