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Chris Kunitz chose Lightning for shot at another Stanley Cup

Forward says he signed with Tampa Bay because they'll be one of 'top three or four teams'

by Corey Long / NHL.com Correspondent

TAMPA -- Chris Kunitz spent Monday with the Stanley Cup and described it as the closing of a chapter after nine seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He officially turned the page Wednesday when he was introduced as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 

[RELATED: NHL Free Agent Tracker | Tyler Johnson signs 7-year contract with Lightning]

 

Kunitz, a four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Anaheim Ducks (2007) and Penguins (2009, 2016, 2017), signed a one-year contract worth $2 million with the Lightning on July 1. The left wing said he has already received text messages from some of his new teammates offering their help as he tries to settle into the area.

"We're excited. It's obviously a new adventure, something different than we're used to," Kunitz said. "We want to get down here, become part of the Lightning family. Try to find a house, somewhere for the kids to go to school and meet the guys when they come in. We're really looking forward to turning another page to our career and we believe that the Lightning have an unbelievable chance to win a Stanley Cup, and that's the reason why we came here."

Kunitz said even his three kids, Zachary, Peyton and Aubrey, have traded in their Penguins gear for Lightning merchandise.

"They have sticks, jerseys, T-shirts and fidget spinners," Kunitz said. "They are all set."

Video: Chris Kunitz on joining the Lightning

Kunitz, who turns 38 on Sept. 26, said one of the main reasons he zeroed in on the Lightning during free agency was his belief that they are one of the "top three or four teams" that will contend for the Stanley Cup this season.

The Lightning hope his Stanley Cup Playoff experience and production (27 goals, 65 assists in 161 games) will be what puts them over the top after missing the postseason in 2016-17 following runs to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final and the 2016 Eastern Conference Final.

"I think change is part of what a team needs," Kunitz said. "Sometimes when you're so close that everybody gets kind of complacent, so I think that's what teams try to do. Obviously, it's a professional sport and guys move around all the time. When you've been a guy who's been in one situation, it's tough to see guys go, but it's also nice to have new relationships and meet other guys and have management show they are trying to make a change to make a team better."

Kunitz has had two memorable playoff battles against the Lightning that back up his belief that they are a top contender. In 2011, the Lightning rallied from down 3-1 to defeat the Penguins in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. In the 2016 conference final, Pittsburgh eliminated Tampa Bay in seven games.

Kunitz says the similarities between the Lightning and Penguins are easy to see.

"I think you start with the captain [Steven Stamkos], who is a dominant player and when healthy can drive an organization," Kunitz said. "The back end with [Victor] Hedman and [Dan] Girardi coming in with playoff experience, and they have forwards with speed and skill and youth. When healthy, any team with this dynamic of a roster can beat everybody every single night."

The Lightning signed Girardi to a two-year, $6 million contract July 1. After talking with former Penguins teammate Carl Hagelin about Girardi, who played with Hagelin for the New York Rangers from 2011-15, Kunitz expects Girardi will be a positive influence on the ice and in the locker room.

"I think we're all professionals," Kunitz said. "We go out there and do what it takes to help our team win, and just because a guy plays hard doesn't mean he's not a good guy. He makes it tough on the guys who are trying to get close to where his goalie is."

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman described Kunitz as someone "tough to play against," and Kunitz said Yzerman and coach Jon Cooper have told him they expect he'll bring an element of grit and toughness to a lineup loaded with playmakers.

"I understand that they want me to come and play my game," Kunitz said. "They don't want me to change anything. I try to play a straight forward game [and] try to be physical on the forecheck; go to the front of the net, go to the battle areas and go through people rather than around them."

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