NHL suspends Leafs' Bunting three playoff games for reckless hit

Apr 19 2023, 10:33 pm

The Toronto Maple Leafs will be without forward Michael Bunting in their next three playoff games against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The NHL Department of Player Safety announced a three-game suspension for Bunting, as a result of his second-period hit against Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak during Game 1 of their opening round series.

“This is both an illegal check to the head and interference,” the NHL explained in a video. “The head is clearly the main point of contact. Bunting’s upper arm and elbow make forceful and direct contact with the head of Cernak, and it is the head that absorbs nearly all the force of the check. Second, the head contact on this play is avoidable.”

Bunting was assessed both a match penalty and a five-minute major for the play, which Tampa scored on twice on the ensuing power play.

Toronto ended up losing 7-3 on the evening, and faces an uphill battle as they attempt to win their first postseason series since 2004 against a team with three straight appearances in the Stanley Cup Final.

It is the first suspension of Bunting’s career.

Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper announced today that Cernak will be out of Tampa’s lineup tomorrow.

“I will give you the company line. The league will look at that. To me, it seems to check a whole bunch of boxes,” Cooper added about the hit after Game 1.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe also wasn’t offering too many opinions on the hit.

“In terms of the call, I don’t have a whole lot of things on that. [Bunting], to me, is trying to set himself up to win a race for the puck. It got away on him. The guy wasn’t expecting it. I am sure [Bunting] is expecting a battle in that situation, and he didn’t get one,” Keefe told the media after the loss. “[Bunting] had some jump early in the game, too.”

The Leafs had already prepped for being without Bunting in today’s practice: Calle Jarnkrok popped on the team’s top line in Bunting’s typical spot alongside Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews.

Game 2 of the series is set for Thursday night, where the Leafs once again host the Lightning for a 7:30 pm ET puck drop.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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