Michael Bunting is back. Well, at least from his suspension. But if you were hoping to see him in Game 5 on Thursday night, you’ll be disappointed.
Bunting was tossed out of Game 1 of the Leafs-Lightning first-round series after an elbow and interference on Tampa defenseman Erik Cernas.
He served a three-game suspension and is now ready to play in Game 5, where the Leafs can clinch a place in the second round of the playoffs. It would be the first time since 2004 that Toronto advanced in a playoff series.
Michael Bunting hasn’t talked about the hit that earned him a three-game suspension, but now, ahead of Game 5, he breaks the silence and explains what really happened.
”[Cernak] and I battle a lot,” he said. ”I have a lot of respect for him. He is a great defenseman. He plays hard. He plays the game right. We have butted heads a few times.
”It is very unfortunate what happened. I never want to see someone get hurt and miss games. I just tried to create space because I was kind of expecting contact from him. That time, he wasn’t going in for contact. The rest happened.”
Bunting also slams back at fans, saying that he’s a dirty player and someone who deliberately wants to hurt players.
”I never intend to hurt anyone out there. That is not my game. I have played over eight years and 500 games in pro. I’ve never had a suspension. That is not my game.”
Michael Bunting also said that he reached out to Cernak after the hit.
” I did. I sent him a text. I will leave that between him and me. I wish him the fastest recovery.”
Head coach Sheldon Keefe announced Wednesday that Bunting will sit out Game 5.
“We’re just comfortable with the group that’s been working here and won three games in a row,” Keefe said. “That’s it. And it’s chemistry with the rest of the group. It makes it not an easy decision because Bunts has played really good hockey for us and is an important guy for our team. He will get back in; it’s just not going to be tomorrow.”
Michael Bunting said he understands the decision, but he’s confident he will get his spot in the lineup back.
”My job is to be a good teammate and be a professional in all aspects. That is what I intend to do. I will just wait for my number to be called. I plan on helping this team win. I am hoping there are a lot more games to be played and that I’ll be in them.
”That is what I plan on doing. For the time being, I want to be a great teammate, support the boys, and cheer them on as best as I can.”