Whenever Michael Bunting’s name comes up around the Penguins organization, his competitiveness always seems to be brought up. Whether it’s about his willingness to stand in front of the net, battling on the forecheck, or even his goal celebrations, Bunting is always giving it his all.

The 28-year-old winger held no emotions back after scoring the game-winner in Pittsburgh’s 5-4 win over Tampa Bay Saturday afternoon. The tally put the Penguins back in front after the Lightning had battled back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game 4-4 in the third period.

“We're in a fight here and it's fun hockey to be a part of, it's exciting,” Bunting said. “The adrenaline was going and yeah, all my emotions showed in that celebration. I’m sure the whole, rink heard me screaming.”

This marked goals in back-to-back games for Bunting, who’s beginning to find his stride with his new team since being acquired from Carolina as part of the Jake Guentzel trade last month.

"I think each game I'm gaining more confidence, I’m getting more comfortable, and I'm excited to be a Penguin,” Bunting said. “It's been a lot of fun. The guys have been great and welcoming me in. It's starting to feel like, ‘yeah, it's my team and I'm part of the squad,’ so it's nice.”

After starting his Penguins tenure playing alongside Sidney Crosby for a few games, Bunting has been with Pittsburgh’s other franchise center, Evgeni Malkin, since March 16 against the Rangers.

“I think we actually complement one another really well,” Bunting said. “He likes to drive the line with the puck and he likes to score goals. I'm good with getting on the forecheck, creating space, and whacking in greasy ones like (the one against Tampa Bay). So hopefully, we can keep this thing going.”

Bunting then made sure to mention the play of their other linemate, Rickard Rakell.

“Raks has been playing amazing as well,” Bunting said. “I don’t want to leave our right winger out there! He's on the hunt. He created a lot there, and I don't think I would have scored if he didn't keep that puck alive.”

Overall, the trio has been a big part of the team’s recent success as the Penguins have clawed their way back into the postseason race, picking up points in eight straight games (6-0-2). During that stretch, Malkin has scored six goals, while Rakell and Bunting have each picked up two. Rakell’s stood as the game-winner against New Jersey, and Bunting’s did against Tampa Bay.

“I think Bunts is playing well,” Head Coach Mike Sullivan said after Saturday’s win. “I think he’s played well with Geno on that line in particular. He’s starting, I think, to understand Geno’s game. I think Raks is playing much better. Geno, I think, is gaining confidence with the success the line is having, but I think Bunts has been a big part of that.”

Bunting will look to build on his strong play Monday in Toronto, where he spent two seasons, including the best one of his career to date. Bunting was named a finalist for the NHL’s Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie in 2021-22 after setting career highs with the Maple Leafs in goals (23), assists (40) and points (63). He was also named to the NHL’s All-Rookie Team after leading all rookies in points.

Kyle Dubas was GM of the Maple Leafs when Bunting was there, and had drafted the Scarborough, Ontario native when he was GM of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. After bringing Bunting into the mix here in Pittsburgh, Dubas spoke of the forward’s energy, saying he’s had a tougher road than anybody in the locker room.

“He didn't play AAA hockey until he was 17 years old, so he's had to grind his way all the way up. He's an underdog type. I think the group can use that type of spirit and energy right now,” Dubas said.

The Penguins have certainly been the benefactors of it.

“He goes to the net, he’s in the battle areas, he drags those guys into the fight, so to speak,” Sullivan said. “That was one of our hopes when we put him there, and he is certainly is doing it. I think he’s playing really well right now.”