Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting has been suspended for three playoff games for his illegal check to the head and interference on Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced Wednesday.
The incident occurred during Game 1 Tuesday of the Stanley Cup Playoffs opening series with 4:20 remaining in the second period.
Bunting checked Cernak, who didn’t have the puck, in the head knocking the blue-liner onto the ice.
Bunting received a match penalty and game misconduct. Cernak went to the dressing room, did not return to the game and has already been ruled out for Game 2 with his injury. Up 4-2 at the time, Tampa Bay added two more goals on the ensuing power play.
In the video announcing the suspension, the NHL noted that “both elements of the illegal check to the head rule are satisfied on this play.” Namely, the head is the primary point of contact and contact with the head is avoidable.
The NHL also noted that the play was interference, adding that Cernak had no reason to expect to be hit in this sequence and is “particularly vulnerable” as a result.
“This is an illegal check to the head delivered to a player who has no reason to anticipate any contact, let alone contact with sufficient force to cause an injury,” the NHL summarizes in the video.
Bunting had not been fined or suspended previously in his career.
The Lightning won the game 7-3 to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday in Toronto. Watch at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet or SN NOW.