He's a Pittsburgh guy to the bone, born and raised and so much like the rugged town itself that, as a Penguin in the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, he broke his nose and kept playing — twice.

But if Lightning left wing Ryan Malone is feeling at all conflicted about going against his former team in his hometown for the first time in the amplified setting of the playoffs, he is mostly keeping that sentiment to himself.

"Obviously, the stakes are higher in the playoffs, so everything is a bigger deal," Malone, 31, said matter-of-factly. "But the big thing is being back in the playoffs. It didn't matter where I was going."

Three regular seasons have passed since Malone, who will try to help Tampa Bay even the first-round, best-of-seven series at one game each tonight at the Consol Energy Center, left Pittsburgh and signed a 7-year, $31 million contract with the Lightning.

A self-made player who was tall and skinny and not much of a prospect in his mid teens — the son of former Penguins forward and scout and current Lightning head pro scout Greg Malone — Ryan was the first player born in Pittsburgh to be drafted by the Penguins.

Playing for the team he grew up rooting for, Malone scored 87 goals from 2003-04 and 2005-08 and personified the Penguins' hard-nosed work ethic during their 2008 playoff run, which ended with a six-game loss to the Red Wings in the finals.

Ultimately, the Penguins couldn't afford to keep him under the NHL's salary cap, so they squeezed a third-round pick out of the Lightning before letting him go, along with Gary Roberts.

Signing Malone might have been one of the best moves former Lightning owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie and short-time coach Barry Melrose made, because now that a new regime has put the other pieces in place, the 6-foot-4, 219-pound Malone is providing a physical presence the Lightning need in the postseason.

Moreover, Malone, whose perpetual grin seems contradictory to his unabashed display of body art, has been a consistently positive locker room influence. It is hardly incidental the Lightning's 2-6-4 skein last month occurred during Malone's nearly two-month absence with a groin injury.