Maple Leafs' Michael Bunting faces hearing over Cernak hit

TORONTO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning crushed the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 to take Game 1 of their first-round NHL playoff series Tuesday night. But it came at a price.

The Lightning lost top-pairing defenseman Victor Hedman in the first period to an undisclosed injury, followed by forward Michael Eyssimont (after a hit from Leafs blueliner Jake McCabe) and then Erik Cernak, who was sent off the ice by an elbow to the head courtesy of Toronto winger Michael Bunting.

None of the three returned for the third period, although it was Hedman -- in shorts and a hoodie -- leading the line of postgame handshakes as Tampa Bay shuffled off.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper called the Hedman injury "a little surprising" without elaborating further on the ailment. Cooper said he was hopeful Hedman would be available for Tampa Bay's next game but that it was too soon to tell. He had no update on the status of Eyssimont or Cernak.

The Cernak injury appeared to be the scariest of the three. Midway through the second period, Bunting caught Cernak up high with his elbow. Cernak was down on the ice for several minutes while being attended to by the Lightning's medical staff. He eventually went to Tampa Bay's dressing room with support from teammates.

Officials reviewed the play while Cernak departed. Bunting was assessed a match penalty for an illegal check to the head, making him ineligible to return for the rest of Game 1.

Bunting will have an NHL Department of Player Safety hearing on Wednesday. Toronto's feisty forward was already under scrutiny for logging a team-high 103 penalty minutes in the regular season and had resolved to play smarter to avoid putting the Leafs at a disadvantage. Instead, he did just that in Game 1 of a pivotal first-round series, with Toronto already trailing 3-2 before losing a top-six winger.

In fact, the Leafs were on their heels practically from the start Tuesday. Tampa Bay got on the board 1:19 into the first period off a goal by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Corey Perry created a turnover to keep the play alive in Toronto's end and allowed Bellemare to deflect a puck past Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov.

Tampa Bay scored its second goal -- this time from Anthony Cirelli -- much like its first: Samsonov gave up rebounds on a pair of saves that the Leafs' defense couldn't clear, and the Lightning took a 2-0 advantage less than 10 minutes in.

The Leafs looked disorganized, nervous and uncharacteristically tentative with the puck. Toronto is, at its best, a puck-possession team, and the Leafs had little of that early in Game 1. And then McCabe took a high-sticking penalty.

Toronto killed that off, then showed some real life, challenging the Lightning and almost pulling even on shots at 11-10. With less than a minute remaining in the first, TJ Brodie was called for a hold. And Nikita Kucherov scored with 2.6 seconds left to send Tampa Bay to the dressing room with a 3-0 lead.

The Leafs were booed off the ice just 20 minutes into their postseason run.

It would take until midway through the second for Toronto to earn its first power play of the night, and Ryan O'Reilly finally solved Andrei Vasilevskiy to get the Leafs rolling. Their momentum was halted when Luke Schenn got called for cross-checking to make the Leafs shorthanded again. Toronto blocked enough shots to keep Tampa Bay from capitalizing and then drew another penalty. William Nylander came through with a goal to make it 3-2 Tampa Bay.

The Lightning swiftly went back to the man advantage, and Brayden Point responded for the Lightning with a quick snipe to put Tampa Bay up 4-2. Perry's strike and another power-play goal by Point had Tampa Bay up 6-2 after 40 minutes.

Special teams played a major role throughout the night, with Tampa Bay finishing 4-for-8 with the extra man and Toronto ending up 2-for-4.

Toronto returned for the third period with rookie Joseph Woll replacing Samsonov (who gave up six goals on 29 shots for .793 SV%) in net. Ross Colton beat Woll to extend Tampa's lead 6:59 in, before Calle Jarnkrok's goal made it 7-3 Lightning at the period's halfway mark.

That's where the night would end. For Toronto, it was a discomforting loss filled with self-inflicted wounds, a far cry from when the Leafs shut out the Lightning in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series last season. Toronto went on to lose that series in seven games.

"The Leafs might win the series," Cooper said Tuesday. "They might. There's so much runway left in this, but what I've learned over the years is I sure as hell wouldn't bet against our guys."

When it comes to rebounding now, Samsonov for one resolved to improve in a hurry to give Toronto a chance at that fate.

"I played like s--- today," he said. "I will be better."

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe added it was "too soon to know" whether Woll would start over Samsonov when Toronto faces Tampa Bay in Game 2 on Thursday.