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Kunitz not surprised by Fleury's playoff success with Golden Knights

Lightning forward saw goalie's competitiveness in nine seasons together with Penguins

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Marc-Andre Fleury hates to lose. At anything.

The goaltender is in the Stanley Cup Final for the third straight season, helping the Vegas Golden Knights there after back-to-back trips with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Though much of the hockey world has been shocked at the success Fleury and the Golden Knights have enjoyed in their inaugural season, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Chris Kunitz, Fleury's teammate for nine seasons with the Penguins, is not.

"(Fleury is) a guy that loved competing against you, even in practice," said Kunitz, who won three of his four Stanley Cup championships (2009, 2016, 2017) with Fleury and the Penguins. "Never wanted to let you score a goal. It could be an hour and half after practice, whatever it was.

"I always enjoyed his smile, the way he competed, even when things would get tough. One of the best teammates you could ever ask for. He's obviously playing with a lot of confidence and you can see the way he's acting and smiling. I think that engages his team to play at another level."

Fleury, who is 12-3 with 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in 15 playoff games, is considered a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as postseason MVP.

Fleury, 33, was made available to Vegas in the NHL Expansion Draft after he had lost his starting job in Pittsburgh to Matt Murray.

"Any time you see a former teammate and good friend succeed, you're happy for them," said Kunitz, who signed a one-year contract with the Lightning as an unrestricted free agent July 1. "You go through different situations in this business and there probably was no better person to deal with those things than him.

"He could have probably gone to different places and he chose to go to that team (Golden Knights) because he believed in them and what they were doing when he talked to them, so credit to him and the character he's shown through this entire thing."

Kunitz, who has one assist in 15 games this postseason, was asked if the storybook ride the Golden Knights are enjoying in their first season is good for the League.

Video: VGK@WPG, Gm5: Reaves, Engelland, Fleury talk Game 5

"It's bad if you're on the other side from them, right?" he said, laughing.

"You go through the expansion draft and it's kind of a new era for that with only one team coming through and getting more choice of players. But that's what it is. They did a great job of organizing and putting their game plan together and executing it.

"And if we hopefully get (a win) tonight, we can battle off against one team."

***

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