NEW YORK (AP) — Toronto’s Michael Bunting has been suspended three games for a head shot on Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak in the teams’ first-round series opener.
Bunting will now miss Games 2, 3 and 4. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced the suspension Wednesday after a phone hearing with Bunting to discuss the play.
Bunting was given a match penalty and ejected from Game 1 for an illegal check to the head late in the second period. Cernak left and did not return.
Veteran Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano said Bunting did not intend to injure Cernak.
“I think (Bunting’s) thinking both guys are going to sort of engage shoulder-to-shoulder, but unfortunately their guy wasn’t really in that mode of engaging, and he got hit,” Giordano said Wednesday after practice in Toronto, before the suspension was announced.
“I don’t think Bunts really even looked at him. I think it was just one of those plays where you know who you’re playing against, and the guy knows he’s going to come at you hard. He was trying to just go shoulder-to-shoulder, get some separation, and it ended up in that.”
Coach Jon Cooper generally deferred to the league when asked about Bunting’s hit Tuesday night but said it “checks all the boxes” for supplemental discipline.
Cernak was one of three Lightning players to leave with an injury and along with forward Michael Eyssimont won’t play in Game 2 Thursday night in Toronto. Cooper said top defenseman Victor Hedman was questionable to play.
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