Leafs' Michael Bunting suspended 3 games for high hit on Cernak in Game 1

Bunting will miss Games 2, 3 and 4 after he was ejected for an illegal hit on Erik Cernak in the Maple Leafs' 7-3 loss to the Lightning in Game 1.

The Leafs will be without spark plug Michael Bunting for three crucial games against the Lightning. (Getty)

Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting has been suspended three games for an illegal check to the head on Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak, the NHL's department of player safety announced Wednesday.

The 27-year-old met with the league on Wednesday following his ejection from Tuesday’s series-opening drubbing at the hands of the Lightning. Bunting, who will miss Game 2 in Toronto and Games 3 and 4 in Tampa Bay, was assessed a match penalty for making contact with Cernak’s head. Cernak laid down on the ice before leaving the game, and did not return.

The Lightning forward has been ruled out of Game 2.

When questioned about the hit after Tuesday's Game 1, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper didn’t formally comment on the matter, indicating that the department of player safety could review the hit, which is exactly what happened.

“I don’t know. I’ll give you the company line of, ‘The league will look at that,’ but, for me, it seems to check a whole bunch of boxes," Cooper said.

Toronto's bench boss offered his own analysis of the hit post-game.

“[Bunting], to me, is trying to win the line and set himself up to win a race for the puck. It got away from him and their guy wasn't expecting it," Sheldon Keefe said.

Bunting, who is slated to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, led the NHL with 41 penalties drawn at 5-on-5 during the regular season.

Toronto lost 7-3 to Tampa Bay in Game 1. Calle Jarnkrok took over in Bunting’s place on a line with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner after Bunting was ejected, and it appears the Swedish winger will skate alongside the Leafs' top two stars once again in Game 2, and likely for the foreseeable future as Toronto tries to claw its way back into the series following a devastating series-opening loss.

It also appears that rookie forward Matthew Knies will draw into the lineup for his first taste of Stanley Cup playoff action after signing his entry-level deal with Toronto late in the regular season, earning one assist in three games.

Game 2 goes Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.