The 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here, and the best hockey players in the world will be battling for the sport’s ultimate prize. There are certain players who will have an especially big impact on how this postseason plays out, and we have highlighted a number of them.
Superstars like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews are playing at an elite level, and they are hungry for their first Stanley Cup. Those two have already shown that they can put on a show in the postseason, but a couple of key players will be making their playoff debuts.
Jack Hughes and Jack Eichel have never suited up in a playoff game, but that is about to change. It will be interesting to see whether those players can get the job done when the pressure is at its highest.
Here are some important players to watch in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting has been suspended three playoff games for an illegal hit to the head of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Eric Cernak in the second period of Game 1. The NHL Department of Player Safety announced its decision on Wednesday, and the Leafs will be without Bunting through Game 4.
Late in the second period, Bunting and Cernak were going for a loose puck when Bunting launched into Cernak’s head. The Tampa defenseman left the game with a head injury and did not return, and Bunting was assessed a five-minute major.
Michael Bunting has received a 5-minute match penalty for an illegal check to the head on Erik Cernak. pic.twitter.com/aY8TnNZgWl
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 19, 2023 In its video explaining decision, the NHL said that both criteria for an illegal hit to the head were met on the play.
“First, the head is clearly the main point of contact,” the NHL said in its explanation. “Bunting’s arm and elbow make direct and forceful contact with the head of Cernak, and it is the head that absorbs nearly all of the force of the check.
“Second, the head contact on this play is avoidable. Bunting unnecessarily extends his body upward into Cernak’s head to deliver this check, missing his core completely and picking his head.”
The league also noted that Cernak was “particularly vulnerable” because there was clear interference on Bunting’s part. The puck was still far away when Bunting initiated the contact.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper has already ruled Cernak out for Game 2, and Toronto will be without Bunting while facing a 1-0 deficit in the series.
Bunting is coming off a 2022-23 season in which he tallied 23 goals and 26 assists in 82 games. His absence will make the Maple Leafs’ attempt to get out of the first round for the first time since 2004 an even more difficult task.
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards has been fined $50,000 for recklessly swinging a chair after a playoff game in Denver earlier this year, the NBA announced on Wednesday. Per the collective bargaining agreement, the league could not end its review into the matter until the criminal investigation into the incident was concluded; charges against Edwards were dropped in July.
After missing a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer of the Timberwolves’ Game 5 loss to the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs last season, Edwards sprinted off the floor and down the tunnel toward the locker room. As he left the court, he picked up a chair and tossed it aside, hitting multiple bystanders.
Video shows Anthony Edwards throwing chair at security guard pic.twitter.com/jw8eFM2Ky4
— MadstrosityYT (@MadstrosityYT) April 26, 2023 Denver police spokesman Jay Casillas said that the two women struck by the chair sustained minor injuries and Edwards was charged with third-degree assault for “knowingly or recklessly” causing bodily injury. Edwards was cited at the arena, and given a court date of June 9.
Edwards’ lawyer, Harvey Steinberg, issued a statement in the immediate aftermath:
“With the game over, Anthony’s exit from the court was partially obstructed by a chair, which he moved and set down three steps later. As video of the incident confirms, Anthony did not swing the chair at anyone and of course did not intend to hurt anyone,” Steinberg said. “Anthony intends to vigorously defend against these baseless charges.”
The charges against Edwards were later dropped.
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Team USA will play four more friendlies in the coming weeks before beginning World Cup action on Aug. 26 against New Zealand. The Americans are looking to bounce back from an embarrassing seventh-place finish in 2019 and win their sixth gold medal in the event.