Maple Leafs' Kyle Clifford ejected from Game 1 vs. Lightning over dirty hit

·2 min read
Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford hit the showers early after a questionable decision in Game 1. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford hit the showers early after a questionable decision in Game 1. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It wouldn’t be a first-round series involving the Toronto Maple Leafs without some drama right out of the gate.

In the opening period of Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday, the team was clearly pumped for the opportunity to show some physicality. So much so that fourth-liner Kyle Clifford threw a dangerous and unnecessary hit on Lightning winger Ross Colton.

After some conversation among league officials, Clifford was punished with a five-minute major boarding penalty and a game misconduct, leaving his total playing time for the first game of this much-anticipated series at 49 seconds.

Luckily for every nervous Leafs fan, the team was able to get all the jitters out and kill off the entire five minutes without allowing a Lightning goal en route to a 5-0 victory.

This might have been the plan all along, even though Clifford crossed the line. On Sunday, Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe set the tone and said he was preparing for a series full of physicality and even violence.

"They are a team that is going to be very physical and competitive," the Leafs coach said. "When I look at their playoffs — especially in the first round last year — they definitely led the league in skirmishes after the whistle. I expect it to be a very physical, borderline violent series in a lot of ways. Our guys will be ready for that."

That’s foreshadowing if I’ve ever seen it but Keefe was not pleased with Clifford's decision.

"Cliff's hit is not a hit you can make there," Keefe said after the game.

At the time of writing, there has not been any word whether the NHL’s Department of Player Safety will have a further hearing with Clifford about the hit. We have certainly seen suspensions in the playoffs for less.

Luckily for Keefe, he has a direct replacement for Clifford in case of any suspension. Veteran forward Jason Spezza was a healthy scratch for Game 1.

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