Michael Bunting to make Maple Leafs playoff debut against Lightning in Game 2
Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
6 months ago
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting will make his NHL playoffs debut when the team hosts the Tampa Bay Lighting in Game 2 of their first-round series.
”I think it will have a positive impact as he has had all season,” Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of the forward’s return. “He’s an important part of our top line and he makes us a deeper group.”
Bunting took part in his first full practice with the team on Tuesday, just one day after the Maple Leafs took the opening game of the series 5-0. The 26-year-old didn’t disclose the nature of his injury, however he was seen shaking out his right leg when he departed in the first period of the Leafs’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers on Apr. 23.
The Scarborough native said he felt good following Tuesday’s practice and was one of a handful of players who took part in Wednesday morning’s optional team skate.
Although many players are dealing with bumps and bruises heading into the playoffs, the Leafs have a full roster of players available to enter the lineup, with the exception of Kyle Clifford, who was suspended for one game for boarding Tampa’s Ross Colton.
On Monday, Ondrej Kase returned to the lineup after missing the previous 44 days with a concussion. The Czech forward made an impact with two assists in Toronto’s opening victory against Tampa.
”To have both Bunting and Kase that makes a big difference for us,” Keefe said.
With Bunting’s return, he will be reunited on the team’s top line with star forwards Auston Matthews and William Nylander. Alex Kerfoot will move off the top line to skate alongside John Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev. Kase will move further down the lineup to skate with forwards Colin Blackwell and Wayne Simmonds.
The Maple Leafs and Lightning combined for 113 penalty minutes in Game 1. Bunting’s ability to agitate his opponents could draw more physicality and extra-curricular activities.
”I just think the way he works to get pucks and get under the skin of his opponents, he’ll be great,” William Nylander said.
Bunting, signed to a two-year, $1.9 million contract last summer, scored 23 goals and had 63 points in 79 games in his first season with his hometown club.
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