"He makes it look so easy for the rest of us," Kunitz noted after his team claimed a 4-3 overtime victory against the Winnipeg Jets at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday. "He's obviously elevated my career to a whole new level."
Crosby elevated his team to the win by nitching three points, including the overtime game-winner as well as his 1,000th career point. He became the 86th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point mark, and in 757 career games, was the 12th-fastest to do so.
The Penguins scored the contest's first goal only 59 seconds into regulation. After Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck fumbled a dump-in attempt, Patric Hornqvist and Scott Wilson each chopped second-chance opportunities on net. Wilson followed up his shot attempt by jabbing a backhanded pass to the left circle where Evgeny Malkin was able to fire a wrister past Hellebuyck's glove hand.
"I have to control that, Hellebuyck said. "It's the NHL. But sometimes, it's unexplainable. The puck will just spin off a stick. You have to be on it at all times."
Crosby reached the milestone on the Penguins' second goal at 6:28 of the first period. Chasing down a loose puck in the left circle of the Jets' zone, Crosby fended off Winnipeg right winger Blake Wheeler, spun toward the net and fed a pass to Kunitz in the slot. Kunitz fired a one-timer which beat Hellebuyck's left leg.
With only two assists in his previous four games, Crosby had been stifled a bit as he approached the milestone.
"It's a great number but it's not something you want to talk about for a week or a week and a half," Crosby said. "It means you're probably not putting it in that much. we had lots of chances the last few games. I could tell guys were looking for me a little bit more and things like that."
The ability of Crosby (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) to muscle the larger Wheeler (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) off the puck was nothing new to Kunitz.
"That's how he's played the game," said Kunitz, who has been involved in 185 of Crosby's points. "He's been able to use his body to create space and then to have the vision to be able pull the puck away from somebody and give me an open look for a pass that was right in my wheelhouse. That's the way he battles. That's the way he plays every game. It doesn't matter if it's forehand or backhand. It seems like he can see the whole ice."
The Jets didn't get on the scoreboard until 17:10 of the second period. Taking a puck deep into the Penguins' right wing, Jets center Mark Scheifele fed a pass to center Mathieu Perreault in the right circle. Perreault one-touched it to right winger Patrik Laine in the left circle. Going backhand to forehand, Laine lifted a wrister past sprawling goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
Winnipeg tied the game at 3:22 of the third period. After a wrister by Jets left winger Adam Lowry from the left boards was kicked out by Fleury, the rebound wobbled out to the right point where Jets defenseman Paul Postma blasted a one-timer past Fleury's glove hand on the near side for his first goal of the season.
The Jets claimed their first lead at the 11:36 mark. Pinching in on a puck deep in the Penguins' right corner, Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien swooped around the back of the cage and tucked a forehand wraparound through Fleury's five hole.
It became a 3-3 contest at 13:55 of the third. Working on a power play, defenseman Kris Letang fed a pass from the center point to right winger Phil Kessel in the left circle. Kessel zipped a wrister through traffic past Hellebuyck's left shoulder on the far side. Crosby recorded a secondary assist for his 1,001st point.
Fleury denied Jets left winger Nikolaj Ehlers on a breakaway at 3:53 of overtime with a glove save to help keep the game tied. He finished with 44 saves. Hellebuyck made 35 saves.
Crosby's goal came with only 21.1 seconds left in overtime. Driving to the net off the right wing, Malkin challenged Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba one-on-one. As Trouba pushed him away from the crease, Malkin was able to tap a backhanded pass to above the crease where Crosby darted by Scheifele and pushed a forehand shot past Hellebuyck's right skate.
The Penguins played most of the game with only four defensemen after Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta each left during the second period. Schultz left at the 4:24 mark after being slammed from behind into the right-wing boards of Winnipeg's zone by Byfuglien. Maatta departed after being struck in open ice by Lowry in front of the Jets' bench at the 8:56 mark. Coach Mike Sullivan did not have an update on their statuses.
Penguins LW Carl Hagelin remained sidelined for the fifth consecutive game due to a concussion. He participated in Thursday's morning skate and said he was "moving in the right direction."
Penguins D Kris Letang appeared in his 600th career game.
Penguins C Eric Fehr returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch in Tuesday's 4-0 home win against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Penguins' scratches were RW Josh Archibald and D Chad Ruhwedel.
Jets G Ondrej Pavelec was sidelined for a fourth consecutive game due to an undisclosed injury.
The Jets scratched Enstrom, D Julian Melchiori and C Andrew Copp.