Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting can’t blame this one on the refs.
Bunting was ejected from Tuesday night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning for elbowing defenseman Erik Cernak in the head.
The hit came in the final five minutes of the second period, during Game 1 of their playoff series. Both players were pursuing the puck, skating side-by-side. While players are allowed to battle for the puck, Bunting raised his arm and lifted up into Cernak as he initiated contact. Referees Wes McCauley and Frederick L’Ecuyer tossed Bunting from the game, issuing a match penalty for the hit.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has scheduled a hearing with Bunting on Wednesday.
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the hit after the game.
“In terms of the call, I don’t have a lot of thoughts on that,” said Keefe. “[Bunting] is trying to win the line to try and set himself up for a race to win the puck. It got away on him. [Cernak] wasn’t expecting it. I’m sure he was expecting a battle in that situation. He didn’t get one.”
Tampa head coach Jon Cooper expects the league’s Department of Player Safety to hand out futher discipline.
“I’ll give you the company line: the league will look at that,” Cooper said. “For me it seems to check a whole bunch of boxes.”
No word on Cernak’s condition, or his availability for Game 2. At this point, we’ll wait and see about Bunting’s roster status as well.
Player Safety is reviewing the hit. Expect Bunting to miss a game or two.
The following grounds are being considered for supplemental discipline: illegal check to the head and interference. However, the Department of Player Safety retains the right to make adjustments to the infraction upon review
Toronto trailed 4-2 at the time of the penalty. They went on to lose Game 1 by a score of 7-3.
Referees for the game were Wes McCauley (#4) and Frederick L’Ecuyer (#17); linesmen were Matt MacPherson (#83) and Jesse Marquis (#86).