Michael Bunting’s first career game in the Stanley Cup playoffs will come on Wednesday night.
The pesky and productive winger was one of a dozen Maple Leafs skaters who participated in the optional morning skate at Scotiabank Arena, and coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed Bunting’s spot in the lineup for Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“I think he’ll have a positive impact, he has had a positive impact on our team all season,” Keefe said. “He’s an important part of our top line and just makes us a deeper group.”
Bunting — who led National Hockey League rookies in scoring during the regular season with 63 points in 79 games and was tied for third among all NHL skaters with 45 penalties drawn in all situations — will be back on the left wing with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Bunting missed the final three games of the regular season and the Leafs’ 5-0 win in Game 1 of the best-of-seven first-round series against the Lightning with an undisclosed injury.
Keefe’s lineup decision was made for him, as winger Kyle Clifford will serve a one-game suspension, levied by the NHL, for boarding Tampa winger Ross Colton in the opener.
“Like I’ve talked about, I didn’t like the hit,” Keefe said. “I didn’t think it was a good hit. I wasn’t surprised that the league had a say in it.”
What was Tampa coach Jon Cooper’s take on the suspension?
“I don’t think Clifford went in there to hurt the guy,” Cooper said. I don’t think he thought that was the result that was going to happen. I think Colton had a chance to prepare himself for it, it probably wouldn’t have been the same result. He just didn’t see him coming.
“I don’t think there was malice on Clifford that he was going to smash his face into the glass. Probably warranted a suspension the way things are going.”
William Nylander and Pierre Engvall will remain in the Leafs lineup after neither practised on Tuesday.
Nylander revealed he missed the workout after a bout of food poisoning. He got ill on the day of Game 1, but played through it and was effective, especially in the early going.
“Needed some little rest,” Nylander said of his practice absence. “I was puking that day (of Game 1). I think it was sushi for lunch.
“You can’t let the food poisoning get to you. Feeling way better now.”
The Leafs got momentum from their work on special teams in the opener, scoring one power-play goal and one shorthanded to emerge with a win.
Tampa is bound to play with more resilience in Game 2, and keep this in mind: In winning the Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons, not once did the Lightning lose two in a row in either Cup run.
“It’s a good group at turning the page,” Cooper said. “They dig their heels in when they’re pushed against a wall.
“We’ve had a pretty good history of taking Game 2, not guaranteeing future success tonight, but the goalie finds a way to get himself dialled in, in these situations.”
Leafs winger Wayne Simmonds, meanwhile, has been named the team’s nominee for the 2021-22 King Clancy Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player “who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”
The projected Leafs lineup for Game 2:
Michael Bunting-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner
Ilya Mikheyev-John Tavares-Alex Kerfoot
William Nylander-David Kampf-Pierre Engvall
Ondrej Kase-Colin Blackwell-Wayne Simmonds
Morgan Rielly-Ilya Lyubushkin
Jake Muzzin-TJ Brodie
Mark Giordano-Timothy Liljegren