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Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates a goal by Chris Kunitz #14 goal against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center on December 6, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Justin K. Aller/2010 Getty Images)
Pascal Dupuis #9 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates a goal by Chris Kunitz #14 goal against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center on December 6, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Justin K. Aller/2010 Getty Images)

Wingmen Kunitz and Dupuis happy in Sid the Kid's shadow Add to ...

Both men seem to know they're in the right place at the right time, riding shotgun alongside the NHL's top star as he continues a 16-game reign of terror on the rest of the league.

They've also come to an understanding about just what it means to play with Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby every night.

"It's special," said left winger Pascal Dupuis. "You're playing with one of the best hockey players who's played the game."

"You'll probably want to tell your grandkids or have enough video or photos of yourself doing it to show them that you were there," added Chris Kunitz, Crosby's right winger since arriving at the 2008 trade deadline.

The Penguins are on a 13-1-1 roll, including 10 consecutive wins going into Wednesday night's matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Crosby has an incredible 18 goals and 33 points in his past 16 games, taking a big lead in the scoring race.

Throughout that run, he's played almost exclusively with Kunitz and Dupuis on one of the odder first lines in the league.

Neither of Crosby's wingers was drafted, and even at 20 - an age when The Kid was already a captain and Hart Trophy winner - the NHL seemed a long way off for both.

Dupuis's break came with expansion, as the Laval, Que., native landed a spot in the talent-poor Minnesota Wild organization and played his way onto the roster after a year in the minors.

Kunitz, meanwhile, grew up in Regina but spent four years at Ferris State University, where he exploded in his final season for 35 goals and 79 points in 42 games. Even with that, he didn't catch on as a full-time NHLer until he was 26.

"I was going to school to go to school," Kunitz said. "I would never have thought before I went to college that the NHL was even a possibility."

"Obviously, I'm not a 50-goal scorer," Dupuis said. "You bring what you can."

As with so many things in the NHL these days, it's a line that owes its existence primarily to the salary cap, as one of the pair's biggest benefits to the Penguins is how little they earn for each minute they're on the ice.

Third and fourth among Pittsburgh's forwards in ice time this season, Kunitz and Dupuis are due a combined $5.2-million - a far cry from Crosby's $9-million haul.

In any other era, a contending team such as the Penguins would likely have broken the bank by adding a high-flying winger to play with their leading man. With Crosby reinventing his game and piling up 51 goals last season without a high-profile linemate, general manager Ray Shero was able to spend big on his blueline this summer, knowing his captain would still find a way to score.

Despite playing with Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis have relatively modest point totals, with neither on pace to crack the 50-point mark. (After 29 games, Crosby already has 48 points.)

Both have excelled, however, at keeping the puck out of their net and on Crosby's stick, helping put him on pace for 68 goals and 136 points - both of which would be career highs.

"It's a challenge just to try and keep up with his pace," Kunitz said. "He kind of demands the puck anywhere he is on the ice just with his ability to get open. You always look for him."

Neither of his wingers seems to mind Crosby hogging the spotlight.

"We all know what he goes through every day," Dupuis said, motioning toward a horde of media crowded around the captain. "The media stuff. To be a role model. He's a perfect, prototypical hockey player superstar. He does all the right things."

"I have little cousins and people back home who you try and get autographs for," Kunitz said. "People always ask you, 'What is he like? What type of person is he?' You realize there's something special about him. Everybody wants to know a little bit about him."

And his linemates? They already do.

 

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