While Chris Kunitz faced his former Penguins teammates twice in the first month of the season, he said he'd be more emotional when he actually returned to Pittsburgh, where he spent nine years and won three Stanley Cups.
And Saturday's reunion was extra special as Kunitz was presented with his 2017 Cup ring by Mario Lemieux and coach Mike Sullivan in a casual, pre-game meeting in a suite. Captain Sidney Crosby, Kunitz's former linemate, waited outside to catch up afterwards.
"It's obviously a great honor," Kunitz said.
The same could be said for Sullivan, who called this "one of the more fulfilling parts of the job."
"He's 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 are expected to honor Kunitz with a video tribute in the first period. Kunitz, who signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Lightning July 1, has six points in 22 games (three goals), 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, turn pucks over and 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."
More notes: The Penguins will start backup goalie Tristan Jarry, so the Lightning hasn't faced Matt Murray in three meetings this season. Kunitz said coach Jon Cooper showed the team tape of their slow starts the past few games, and thinks the key will be dictating the pace from the start tonight.