TAMPA — Mike Blunden found a way to seemingly tick off the entire Toronto team Monday night.
Toward the end of Tampa Bay's 3-0 win, Blunden, 29, was part of a scrum that Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri said the Lightning wing "brought … on himself" by "chirping at our bench."
"It's something you might be able to do in (AHL) Syracuse or wherever," Kadri said. "But not here."
The ironic part of his comment is that a good chunk of the Maple Leafs' lineup has spent most of this season in the AHL.
Blunden said he was just "chirping" at one Toronto player and got punched in the head. "I wasn't trying to start any (stuff)," Blunden said. "It's part of the game, just go and play."
Part of Blunden's game is being a pest. On a Lightning team filled with skill and speed, Blunden provides needed size (6 feet 4, 217 pounds) and sandpaper, qualities that especially come in handy in the playoffs.
"(He is) generally a pain in the (butt)," coach Jon Cooper said.
Blunden, called up in mid March, also scored the game-changing first goal Monday, driving the net and finishing a beautiful feed from Erik Condra.
"That's why he's here. He competes really hard," Cooper said. "He has size. Look at where he scored that goal. When you go to those areas, you're definitely going to find your way back on the ice."
Blunden is just happy to be back on the ice. This time last year, he was getting rid of his crutches, having had season-ending surgery in February to repair a torn MCL and ACL. Had Blunden not gotten hurt — on what he called a freak play in an open-ice hit in Syracuse — he might have been part of the Lightning's playoff run.
"It was just brutal," Blunden said. "At the time, Syracuse, we were in first place and having a great year. I was just looking forward to having a lot of fun and be in the playoffs, and I got hurt. I'm just happy I recovered and still get to play hockey."
Blunden got a boost in his rehabilitation. Cooper surprised him by calling him from Dallas before a game to wish him luck with his surgery.
"It was a real class move by him," Blunden said. "I've never gotten that before, and I've had quite a few surgeries."
Oh, the injuries. Blunden, picked 43rd overall in the 2005 draft by the Blackhawks, made his NHL debut in 2006 with Chicago, but his season ended after nine games due to a shoulder injury. He got traded to the Blue Jackets, then the Canadiens, who enter Amalie Arena tonight.
Blunden has spent most of his career grinding in the AHL, amassing 461 games, compared to 119 in the NHL.
That's what made it so gratifying for Blunden to get another chance this season. His goal Dec. 15 in Toronto was his first in the NHL since 2012.
"A lot has changed in a year," Blunden said. "I just want to keep it going."
Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.