Sheldon Keefe Makes Big Michael Bunting Decision Ahead of Game 5

The Toronto Maple Leafs had a tough lineup decision to make in advance of Game 5 of their first-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning: what to do with Michael Bunting.

The sometimes overzealous winger has finished serving his three-game suspension for his headshot to Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak. But the Leafs won all three of those games in which he was absent. Does head coach Sheldon Keefe mess with a good thing and tamper with the lineup by putting the 23-goal scorer back in the rotation? 

Keefe has made his decision... for now. And the answer is no.

“He will get back in. It’s just not going to be tomorrow," said the coach. So no Bunting for Game 5.

The Leafs' winger referred to the decision as some "adversity" but was confident that he'll be back in the lineup soon. 

“Listen. I want to play. I want to be in the lineup. And that's what I intend on doing in the future here. I want to be impactful. I want to play my game and do things that has helped our team make the playoffs. So, that's what I plan on doing.

“And there's a little adversity for me here. But you know what? I've gone through adversity my whole life, and I made it here. So, it's just another day for me.”

Bunting added that it wasn't easy watching from the press box. “Watching’s stressful. Very stressful up there,” he said. “I’m obviously not able to have control of the game. It’s almost worse. I was more nervous watching than playing. But the guys have responded great. Three in a row, that’s unbelievable. I'm just trying to be a great teammate, cheer the boys on, help any way I can, and not be a distraction.”

The "distraction" of Bunting's suspension is well in the rear-view mirror at this point, but when the time does come to re-insert him in the lineup, it could be another story. 

Cernak, by the way, will still be on the sidelines as well when Game 5 faces-off Thursday night. 

Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports