The Toronto Maple Leafs are getting Michael Bunting back for Game 2 against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena, head coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed on Wednesday morning, just hours before puck drop.
Bunting had been out of commission since April 23 due to an undisclosed injury and watched from the press box as his Maple Leafs dominated the two-time-defending Stanley Cup-champion Lightning 5-0 in Game 1 on Monday night.
“I felt like a little fan up there,” Bunting said (h/t SportsNet). “It was unreal. It got me going. I was standing up. I was cheering. And it was pretty exciting to see that. That was actually my first ever time watching the Leafs in a playoff game.”
From watching the Leafs in a playoff game to making his Stanley Cup postseason debut on Wednesday night, Bunting’s return to the fold provides an added boost to Toronto’s scoring depth.
The 26-year-old left-winger, who signed with the Maple Leafs last summer, has been a revelation on the left-wing of Toronto’s most vaunted line alongside 60-goal scorer Auston Matthews and 97-point-getter Mitch Marner.
After scoring a combined 11 goals with three assists in two abbreviated seasons with the Arizona Coyotes, Bunting posted 23 goals with 40 assists (63 points) in 2021-22.
His presence allowed the Maple Leafs to spread the wealth, flexing 34-goal scorer William Nylander to the third line while Ilya Mikheyev — who scored 21 goals in just 53 games — is penciled in alongside John Tavares on the second line.
Bunting’s replacement during his absence, Alexander Kerfoot, will flex down to the right-wing spot on the second line while Ondrej Kasse moves down to the fourth line.
Puck drop for Game 2 on Wednesday night is at 7 p.m.