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Chris Kunitz appreciation post

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One of the most decorated Penguins in team history moved on yesterday. Today we look back at some of Chris Kunitz's best moments as a Penguin

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Chris Kunitz. The little engine that could. Undrafted and at one point waived by the Atlanta Thrashers (and if you're not good enough to play there....) what an unlikely career was to follow. 4 Stanley Cups, 3 as a Penguin. An ideal physical force to ride shotgun with Sidney Crosby for so many years- a demon on the forecheck, great on the cycle game and willing to go to the net and able to finish plays off.

Traded to Pittsburgh for Ryan Whitney in February 2009, an era comes to an end with Kunitz signing as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning yesterday. In a way, it was time. Kunitz's production had fallen way off in the past few years; his goal total decreasing from 35 to 9 in the past three seasons and his points falling from 68 to 29 in the same time frame. The Pens had many a younger, cheaper alternative for bottom-six wingers, and developed new scoring line options as well.

Still, it's a momentous career worth remembering. Rare is the player that stays with one team as long as Kunitz and has as much success and memorable moments. Such as..

A couple months after joining the team, Kunitz made his mark in the first round of the playoffs, damn near breaking Kimmo Timonen in half with a thunderous hit. The Pens would go onto defeat the Flyers in this series.

I always fancied this goal against the Bruins as a typical Kunitz goal. Because it starts with Sid throwing the puck to the net, Kunitz makes an awkward, but effective play to backhand the puck between his legs past Tuukka Rask. The narrative always was Sid made it easy for Kunitz, and many times he did. But a lot of what Kunitz could do, and just how productive he could be to turn something out of nothing, like this play, often happened to those that watched closely.

But, let's not pretend that Crosby DIDN'T put a ton of pucks on a platter for Kunitz, including this magnificent no-look backhand pass. Also, note that Kunitz was the 3rd winger on a Crosby-Evgeni Malkin line, and indeed over the years was by far the most chosen 3rd wheel for the "two-headed monster" as a function of his all-around play, physicality, finishing ability and availability. Obviously he was the 3rd most important member of the super-line, but he still often proved to be a valuable part of it.

And, can't make a Kunitz tribute without a shoutout and mention of a prototypical Penguins goal from about 2010-14 with the KCD line. Here note that Kunitz forechecks hard, causes a turnover and quickly moves the puck to Sid with an accurate pass. That's a little detail that often goes unnoticed, especially when Crosby makes a no-look pass to give the other linemate, Pascal Dupuis, a wide open net. When that line was rolling, that was their calling card. Wingers do hard work, Crosby does something unreal, team cashes in. Kunitz-Crosby-Dupuis in a nutshell.

Another classic Kunitz move was to turn defense into offense. And dusting off potentially the best goalie of all-time in Martin Brodeur isn't a bad way to finish a breakaway.

Big hits were a trademark. Here Jared Spurgeon learns to keep his head up.

Then there was an OT winner in 2013 against the Islanders in Game 3 (to give the Pens a 2-1 series lead) setup by Sidney Crosby that sure is going to look like a 2017 highlight..

And his last signature moment, it doesn't get much more clutch than a double overtime Game 7 winner in the Eastern Conference final.

Kunitz leaves Pittsburgh 13th all-time in franchise history in points with 388. His 569 career games also rank 13th in team history. As seen above, Kunitz's two OT playoff goals tie him with Martin Straka for 2nd in franchise history (with only Jaromir Jagr [4] having more).

No Penguin as a player has won the Stanley Cup more than Kunitz (though his buddies Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury have him tied there). The most decorated and accomplished core in the history of one of the modern day biggest success stories in the league.

pens5horsemen

Fare thee well and thanks for everything, Chris Kunitz!