Officials handle Leafs’ Bunting in fiery exchange

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Michael Bunting, Leafs’ winger was the victim of ref-on-player violence Tuesday night. (Getty)

With edgy players on both sides like Michael Bunting, Corey Perry and others, and the recent playoff history between these two clubs, Tuesday night’s Leafs-Lightning clash was expected to be an intense showdown.

Official Dan Kelly even wanted a piece.

In the Atlantic Division, both teams were separated by three points. The Leafs held a slight lead. Each team was in for a lot during this matchup in mid-December.

The Maple Leafs jumped out to a 1-0 lead at the 16:45 mark of the opening frame courtesy of Bunting’s eighth goal of the season — his fourth over the last five games. The 27-year old was also a star for another reason.

After Pierre-Édouard Bellemare drilled Mitch Marner into the boards during the dying seconds of the first, his teammates quickly came to his defence, with a scrum ensuing. Bunting was one of those who were part of that mix and grabbed a piece from Anthony Cirelli as well as Mikhail Sergachev.

But before Bunting could create much havoc, Kelly (the linesman) pulled him away from the group and forcefully ushered him toward Toronto’s tunnel. Bunting, despite his complicity, was repeatedly pushed off the ice and nearly fell over the lip of one of the boards by the linesman.

Afterwards, while trying to understand the situation, the Maple Leafs forward seems to shout, “What the f*** are you doing? It was insane.

Bellemare and Bunting were both penalized for roughing, but the Maple Leafs still started the middle frame of the power play. Auston Matthews scored his 17th marker in 2022-23.

Bunting is often found in the middle of most post-whistle scrums, but this is probably the first time he’s ever been shoved by an official.

Fourth-round selection 2014 had eight goals and 23 point in 33 games this season. He also logged 15:39 hours of ice-time per evening. He was named a finalist for Calder Trophy 2014 after scoring 23 goals in 79 contests and 63 points.

The Leafs defeated the Lightning 4-1 in dominant play.

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