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Leafs’ Michael Bunting suspended three games for hit on Erik Cernak

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Gould
1 month ago
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting has been suspended three games for an illegal check to the head and interference on Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, the NHL Department of Player Safety announced Wednesday afternoon.
Bunting was assessed a match penalty on the play, which occurred at the 15:40 mark of the second period of Game 1 between the Maple Leafs and Lightning at Scotiabank Arena. Tampa Bay won the game 7–3 to take a 1–0 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Cernak will not play in Game 2 of the series, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper announced in a media availability on Wednesday. This is Bunting’s first NHL suspension, although he was once previously fined $2,000 for embellishment during the 2021–22 season.
The Maple Leafs and Lightning are slated to play Game 2 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto at 7:00 p.m. ET on Thursday.
“This is an illegal check to the head delivered to a player who has no reason to anticipate any contact, let alone contact with sufficient force to cause an injury,” NHL Department of Player Safety head George Parros explained in the video explaining Bunting’s suspension.
The Maple Leafs signed Bunting to a two-year deal as an unrestricted free agent in 2021. The Scarborough, Ont. product has scored 46 goals and 112 points in 161 games over two regular seasons with the Maple Leafs and has added three points (one goal, two assists) in seven playoff contests.
Bunting is eligible to return to action as soon as Game 5 of the Leafs/Lightning series, which, if necessary, would take place at Scotiabank Arena on April 27. For now, it appears Matthew Knies will enter the lineup in Bunting’s place for Game 2 on Thursday.
The Maple Leafs and Lightning previously met in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Lightning winning Game 7 by a 2–0 score to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

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