PITTSBURGH — Though Lightning F Chris Kunitz had already faced his former Penguins teammates twice in the first month of the season, he said he'd be more emotional when he returned to Pittsburgh, where he spent nine years and won three Stanley Cups.
And Saturday's reunion was extra special. Kunitz was presented with his 2017 Cup ring by co-owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and coach Mike Sullivan in a casual pregame meeting in a suite. Captain Sidney Crosby, Kunitz's former linemate, waited outside to catch up.
"It's obviously a great honor," said Kunitz, who also won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007.
Sullivan called presenting the ring "one of the more fulfilling parts of the job."
"(Kunitz is) such a great person, a great teammate, good player, ultimate competitor," Sullivan said. "He meant so much to the organization over the years and meant a lot to his teammates. So to have an opportunity to shake his hand and say 'Thank you' is a big thrill for me."
The Penguins also honored Kunitz with a video tribute in the first period. The PPG Paints Arena crowd roared in a standing ovation as highlights of Kunitz's Game 7 OT goal against the Senators in last season's Eastern Conference final and him holding the Cup flashed on the screen.
Kunitz, who signed a one-year, $2 million free-agent deal with the Lightning on July 1, has six points in 23 games (three goals) this season and is a staple on the fourth line with Ryan Callahan.
"Just going out and playing my game," Kunitz said. "Just trying to play in a straight line … play physical, go to the net. We haven't had as much scoring as we'd like to this point, but we're trying to put a positive spin on the game every time we're in."
Start it up
With the Lightning having sluggish starts in three straight games entering Saturday, coach Jon Cooper held a video session with his team in the morning showing how players weren't doing the things that have made them successful this season. And though the Lightning had a better effort in the first period against the Penguins, it ended behind 3-0 because of struggling special teams. Tampa Bay allowed a shorthanded goal on a four-minute power play, then gave up two power-play goals on a 5-on-3.
The Lightning entered Saturday with the NHL's best road penalty kill (90.9 percent, tied with the Kings), having allowed three power-play goals in its first 10 road games.
Nuts and bolts
As expected, backup G Peter Budaj got the start against the Penguins. He entered Saturday 2-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average in his previous three starts against Pittsburgh, including one shutout. … F Cory Conacher made his Lightning season debut, and scored, as the team went with 12 forwards. D Slater Koekkoek played, with D Andrej Sustr scratched along with F J.T. Brown. … F Chris DiDomenico, claimed off waivers from Ottawa on Friday, was sent to AHL Syracuse on a conditioning loan, which could last up to two weeks.
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Lightning wing Nikita Kucherov and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby each entered Saturday with 87 goals and 15 winners in the past three seasons, Stats Inc. said. In the game, Crosby had two goals, including the winner, and Kucherov didn't score.