During the regular season, I remember asking James Neal about playing with Chris Kunitz. Neal started to talk about how Kunitz is underrated, then caught himself and said, “I guess I shouldn’t say he flies under the radar because he’s been playing great.”
That’s an example of how appreciated and admired Kunitz – who finished with a team-leading 22 goals in 48 games – is in this Penguins locker room. And on Sunday, he showed everyone why his teammates always speak so highly of him by scoring the overtime winner 8:44 into the fourth period at Nassau Coliseum to give the Penguins a 5-4 win over the Islanders and a 2-1 series lead.
“(That felt) really good, definitely to get the win there in overtime,” Kunitz said. “In a game that had too many bad plays by us to be able to let them come back and get them in front, we did a good job of getting one in overtime.”
That goal was Kunitz’s second of the game, as he scored another power-play marker on a breakaway in the first period to help the Penguins come back from an early 2-0 deficit and tie it up at 2-2. He also had an assist to finish the game with three points.
Kunitz’s main job on the man-advantage is to provide a net-front presence and generally wreak havoc around the cage. But on his first goal, thanks to a perfectly placed pass by Evgeni Malkin, he got to display a little more finesse.
Malkin retrieved the puck in the defensive zone off a faceoff, circled up into the slot and found Kunitz cutting across the blue line, putting him behind the Islanders D. Kunitz went in on a breakaway and beat goalie Evgeni Nabokov glove side.
On the game winner, Kunitz actually got the play started by carrying it deep. He worked it to Malkin in the corner, who skated out front and passed it back to Paul Martin on the point. Martin moved it to Crosby at the side of the net, who found Kunitz as he had drifted into the slot. Kunitz wasted no time teeing off a shot, going down on one knee to blast one past Nabokov to win the game for Pittsburgh.
“On that one, I think that was pretty much all him,” Crosby said. “He did a great job of kind of finding the open area there. 'Paulie' gave us time by making the play he made. It’s not an easy play backing up like that and making the shot that he made. So that was a big one for us.”
Veteran Kunitz wears an “A” on his jersey for home games only, but with Brooks Orpik out for this game he had it stitched onto his sweater today on the road. Kunitz played like a leader does, helping carry his team to victory, and they’ll need more of that from No. 14 as this series goes on.
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