Toronto Maple Leafs left winger Michael Bunting will be facing a hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety today for an illegal check to the head and interference on Tampa Bay Lightning defender Erik Černák.
Officials assessed Bunting a match penalty on the play during last night’s 7-3 Game 1 loss. According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic, Bunting’s hearing with DOPS is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET today.
The play in question occurred at 15:40 of the second period when Bunting extended his upper arm into Černák’s head (video) while attempting to win a race for the puck, which resulted in the Lightning defender leaving the game and not returning. Earlier in the period, Černák had received a questionable roughing penalty for contact on Bunting after play had stopped.
First-round suspensions, along with series losses, are becoming an all-too-familiar refrain for the Maple Leafs. Former middle-six pivot Nazem Kadri was suspended for multiple games in both the 2018 and 2019 first-round losses against the Boston Bruins, while enforcer Kyle Clifford was suspended after a hit in Game 1 of last year’s loss against the Lightning.
The injury Černák sustained on the play will likely have some influence on Bunting’s punishment, and unfortunately for the Lightning, he’s not the only defenseman whose health is in question. Victor Hedman didn’t play the final two periods of the game with an undisclosed injury, forcing the Lightning to play with four defensemen, including rookies Nicklaus Perbix and Darren Raddysh, for the back half of the game.
While Bunting does have a history of playing on the edge, he’s yet to be suspended over the course of his 187-game NHL career. However, the NHL fined Bunting $2,000 in February for diving and embellishment.
With a suspension almost inevitable for Bunting, rookie winger Matthew Knies could make his playoff debut in Bunting’s place in Game 2 Thursday.