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TORONTO — The Maple Leafs welcomed Michael Bunting back from suspension — but not into their lineup.

Bunting, who served a three-game ban for elbowing and interference on Tampa defenseman Erik Cernak in Game 1 of the Leafs-Lightning Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, skated as an extra at his first practice in a week on Wednesday.

The Leafs have won three straight games with Bunting unavailable. Coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed Bunting will not play in Thursday’s Game 5 when Toronto can close out Tampa to advance in a postseason series for the first time since 2004.

“We’re just comfortable with the group that’s been working here and won three games in a row,” Keefe said. “That’s it. And it’s chemistry with the rest of the group. It makes it not an easy decision because Bunts has played really good hockey for us and is an important guy for our team. He will get back in; it’s just not going to be tomorrow.”

Toronto lost Game 1 7-3 and with Bunting out for a stretch, Keefe inserted rookie Matthew Knies into a bottom-six slot. He’s not looking back. Keefe praised Knies on Wednesday as a “very good hockey player” with a “confidence and swagger” that has catapulted Knies onto Toronto’s second line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner.

Keefe hasn’t shied from moving players around throughout the series. He did that throughout Game 4, when Toronto trailed 4-1 in the third period before mounting a furious comeback to down the Lightning 5-4 in overtime.

Seeing his team rally was another reason Keefe didn’t want to change personnel.

“What I do like about the top-to-bottom six [we have] is part of the decision to not insert Bunting in, [so we’re] maintaining that,” Keefe said. “We’re trying to establish something where we are comfortable playing all four lines. That was our intention going into the series. We thought we were in a good spot that way and had to adjust along the way, which is what we had to do [in Game 4]. The players responded well. We can always make other adjustments if needed, but we like the group [this] way.”

Bunting, 27, will have to wait for that to change before he steps back in. He previously was on Toronto’s top line for much of the regular season, notching 23 goals and 49 points in 82 games. It was midway through the second period of Game 1 that he sent an elbow high on Cernak, earning a game misconduct and, eventually, the first suspension of his career. Cernak left the ice after their collision and hasn’t dressed since.

In his first public comments, Bunting said he “never intended to hurt anyone out there” and that he texted Cernak after Game 1 to check in and wish him a speedy recovery. Bunting’s focus was on moving forward and working his way back into an important role.

“Listen, I want to play, I want to be in the lineup,” Bunting said. “And that’s what I intend on doing in the future here. I want to be impactful; I want to play my game and do things that helped our team make the playoffs. There’s a little adversity for me here, but you know what, I’ve gone through adversity my whole life and I made it here. So this is another day.”

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Toronto Maple Leafs’ Michael Bunting not in lineup after suspension