Injury-plagued Kunitz finds his playoff sea legs
Max Talbot jumps on Ottawa's Chris Neil in a scrum in front of Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period Tuesday night in Game 4 in Ottawa.
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OTTAWA -- It was not the kind of thing Chris Kunitz wanted to show up on his linescore for the Penguins' first-round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators.
Making a move to bury a shot, the left winger lost his footing and took a header, spawning uproarious laughter. Luckily for him, his pratfall occurred Sunday night in the Penguins' dressing room and the audience was limited to people still in those friendly confines of the otherwise hostile Scotiabank Place following Game 3, and he slunk away with an embarrassed smile, muttering something about someone needing to clean up the water on the floor.
"Yeah, a couple of laughs," he recalled Tuesday night.
On the other slippery surface, the frozen kind, Kunitz has been anything but klutzy.
He has been a big factor in the series, and Tuesday night it was heavy on offense.
In Game 4, a 7-4 Penguins win for a commanding, 3-1 series lead, Kunitz had a goal and two assists.
That gives him five points in the four games.
"It feels good when you get out there and contribute," Kunitz said.
That is only half the statistical significance for the top-line winger. He had another two hits, giving him 14 for the series, but he did not bite late in the game when the Senators did their best to draw the Penguins into scrums.
"We've got to stay disciplined," he said. "Obviously, the stuff at the end of the game, they're trying to get some momentum going in their favor. We have to keep out of that and start again at home."
Kunitz's goal, his team's sixth of the night, came at 18:11 of the second period. From the front of the net, he converted a feed from behind the net from linemate Sidney Crosby, who has been a beast this series and now has 11 points.
It is not always easy to keep up with a skilled center such as Crosby, and that is especially true for a player who is a little rusty. Kunitz missed the last four games of the regular season because of a shoulder injury. It looked as if he might miss the playoff opener, too, as he did not skate on a regular line at a practice or morning skate.
"I'm sure he's feeling more comfortable with the speed and the pace and the physicality, timing and things like that," Crosby said.
"I think he is getting used to things, and tonight that showed. He generated a lot, created a lot with physical play and buried his chance."
Kunitz's assists came on goals by Crosby earlier in the second period.
Kunitz not only has come back from his late season injury but is at full speed after missing about a month starting in early January because of surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle.
"I feel good," he said. "It was good that I got some time to get healthy before the end of the season.
"In the playoffs, you have to take it to a whole new level, and the first game probably wasn't the easiest, but I'm feeling better every game."
In Game 1, he did not make it onto the second unit of the power play -- his usual spot -- but logged 14 minutes, 12 seconds of ice time and dished out a whopping five hits.
In Game 2, he had an assist and four hits, and, in Game 3, an assist and three hits.
First Published April 21, 2010 12:00 am