Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting is inching closer to a return to the lineup and could be an option for Game 2 in the team’s playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
“I felt good and I felt like my speed was there,” Bunting said of practice. “I’m pretty happy with it.”
Bunting took part in his first full practice with the club since suffering an undisclosed injury on Apr. 23 in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Florida Panthers. The Scarborough native elected to keep the nature of the injury to himself when speaking to the media on Tuesday, but the forward was seen shaking out his right leg when he left in the first period of the aforementioned game against Florida.
”We haven’t made any determination on his status yet, we’ll see how he is when he comes in tomorrow morning and see how it responded from pushing it again today,” Keefe said of Bunting.
The Scarborough native skated in his regular role alongside star forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner at practice on Tuesday. The Leafs fully expect him to return at some point during the first-round series. So long as there isn’t any flare up, that will be the determining factor in deciding if the forward returns.
Alex Kerfoot filled in on the top line for Bunting in Game 1 and moved down to the team’s second line to skate with Ilya Mikheyev and John Tavares at practice. The ripple effect of that change saw Ondrej Kase — who made his return to the lineup after missing the last six weeks with a concussion — move to a line with Colin Blackwell and Wayne Simmonds.
William Nylander and Pierre Engvall sat out of the team’s 20 minute skate at Ford Performance Centre but are expected to play in Game 2. Kyle Clifford — suspended by the NHL Department of Player Safety for one game after his boarding penalty and game misconduct for hitting Tampa’s Ross Colton — and Jason Spezza acted as placeholders alongside David Kampf.
If Bunting returns, the Leafs get another player who could get under the skin of their opponents. Toronto defeated Tampa 5-0 to take Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series in a game that combined for 113 penalty minutes.
“I think a player like Bunts is made for the playoffs, I think he thrives on it,” Keefe said. “He plays a lot of regular-season games like they’re playoff games and that’s part of what’s made hims successful, he’s playing with a higher-level of intensity all the time. That evens out a bit as others bring their intensity up, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that Bunts has another level to get to as well.”
Morgan Rielly had some cuts on his face after he was involved in two fights against the Lightning on Monday. He said his hand was fine after it was cut open following his fight with Tampa’s Jan Rutta.
During his media availability, Rielly kept his hands in his hoodie as he answered questions about what led to the third-period melee on Monday.
’It’s just playoff intensity, I think,” Rielly said. “Obviously both teams wanted to win and hold their ground and not wanting to back down, all that stuff.”
The Leafs kept the defence at the same at practice and it’s unlikely any chances will be made to the back end for Game 2.