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Kunitz breaks out by keeping it simple

by Shawn P. Roarke /
PITTSBURGH -- Thursday night, Chris Kunitz turned his coach into a prophet.

Dan Bylsma had spent the 48 hours between Game 1 and Game 2 insisting Kunitz would break out of his goal-scoring drought -- a 19-game run of futility that dated back to the regular season -- if he just played his game.

Kunitz is the banger, the shift disturber on Pittsburgh's top line. He does the dirty work -- patrolling the corners, driving hard to the net, chasing the puck -- that makes Sidney Crosby look good. Yet, he was not being rewarded for it in the goal column, a telling stat considering Kunitz is a proven 20-goal scorer throughout his career.

Thursday night, Kunitz did all those things, and -- lo and behold -- he ended up with a goal, a wrist shot from the top of the circle that gave Pittsburgh a 4-3 lead in what would eventually turn into a 7-4 victory for the home team.

"He was doing a lot of those things and providing opportunities for (his linemates) to have success," Bylsma said. "Before he got the goal, he had two or three really good chances there to get to the goal. And I'm happy for him. I'm happy that, you know, he can stop thinking about (the drought)."

The goal was typical Kunitz when he is on top of his game. Bill Guerin and Kunitz were battling a pair of Carolina players -- Scott Walker and Dennis Seidenberg -- along the half wall. Guerin kicked the puck free with his skate, allowing Kunitz to break free and maneuver into the near faceoff circle before snapping off a wrister that beat Cam Ward with just 7.3 seconds left in the period.

Suddenly, despite the fact that Carolina dominated at times throughout the first two periods and took a 3-2 lead into the first intermission, Pittsburgh skated off the ice with a 4-3 lead after two periods. Then, after the 'Canes tied the score, the Penguins ripped off three more goals in the third to pull away.
"It definitely feels good," said Kunitz, who also had assists on goals by Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. "It's not about the goal; it's more about the win." 

It may have been about the win, but Bylsma admitted it was about something else, too. It was about an injection of confidence and a payoff for Kunitz staying true to his foundation -- his skill set -- through the lean times this postseason.

"You know, his teammates are happy for him because we know the situation when you read in the paper (about the struggles) and he tries to put it aside," Bylsma said. "He had a couple of opportunities to score the big goal there. It's good to see him get on the score sheet.
"But he did a lot of good things tonight just like he's been doing in the past for us." 

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