TORONTO – Nazem Kadri wishes the verdict wasn’t so strict. But he maintains the act that earned him his punishment was the appropriate one.
"I was disappointed. I wasn’t expecting that, that’s for sure," he said. "That particular play, I felt like a liberty had been taken on Mitch (Marner).
"I’m always going to stand up for my teammates and stand up for myself. That part’s not going to change about me. Was it worthy of a suspension? I definitely think so. I think the three games was a little harsh."
The NHL Department of Player Safety said the check was a "forceful and illegal hit, delivered on a defenceless opponent with the purpose of retribution and message-sending and such plays will not be tolerated."
Kadri, who has three previous suspensions, doesn’t exactly agree with that assessment.
"I didn’t feel like it was a malicious play to go in and try to hurt him," he said. "It was more of a statement thing, making a lot of contact with the majority of the boards.
"Thankfully he wasn’t injured on the play. If my intent was there, there possibly could have been an injury. It could have been a lot worse."
With Kadri’s sentence now over, the Leafs get their No. 2 centre back at a critical time.
Sans Kadri, they lost two of three games and are now on the brink of elimination with Game 5 on the road looming Saturday.
"It’s unfortunate for him he missed three games," coach Mike Babcock said. "But the way I look at it is on a team, you’ve gotta be able to pick each other up. We weren’t able to do that.
"He comes back. He’ll make us deeper. We’re excited to have him back. Plus, we’ll have good energy for us. It’s important to have that going into Boston."
Plekanec saw more ice time in those two games than in any other in his brief Leafs tenure. He probably played his two best games, too.
Bergeron missed Thursday’s affair with an upper-body injury and was replaced by Riley Nash at centre. Babcock said he’s not sure yet how the lines will shake out on the Toronto end for Game 5.
Still, his message to Plekanec is clear even if he gets moved back down to the fourth line.
"You finally found your game as a Leaf," Babcock told him. "We need you to be that good."
Whatever the lines end up being, the Leafs are glad for the return of their top two-way centre who contributed 32 goals and 55 points during the regular season.
While the Leafs won’t have the last change for defensive matchups, Kadri will bring an edge to the lineup that may have been missing — for better or worse.
"He’s a really competitive guy," defenceman Jake Gardiner said. "You saw that not in the best way against Boston (in Game 1). But he sticks up for his teammates and wants to win so bad.
"Getting him back is going to be a big boost for us."
Kadri is one of five Leafs to participate in the last series against the Bruins in 2013. They, too, were down 3-1 before forcing a Game 7.
"Obviously not a great finish," Kadri said. "We were heading in the right direction."
Kadri hopes the Leafs can head in the same direction this time as well.
And now he finally gets another chance to make his presence felt.
"It’s exciting to get back in," he said. "I’ve been champing at the bit the last couple games here and it’s hard to watch knowing you could be out there trying to help and trying to make an impact. I’m happy the time’s come."