San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane has been suspended for 21 games without pay by the NHL after violating the league's COVID-19 protocol.

Kane was not with the Sharks during their training camp, while he did not play in the team's season-opening 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.

The 30-year-old – who led the Sharks last season with 49 points (22 goals and 27 assists) in 56 games – is not eligible to return until November 30 against the New Jersey Devils after allegations he submitted a fake COVID-19 vaccination card to the NHL and team.

"I would like to apologise to my team-mates, the San Jose Sharks organisation, and all Sharks fans for violating the NHL COVID protocols," Kane said in a statement on Monday.

"I made a mistake, one I sincerely regret and take responsibility for. During my suspension, I will continue to participate in counselling to help me make better decisions in the future.

"When my suspension is over, I plan to return to the ice with great effort, determination, and love for the game of hockey."

San Jose left wing Kane has four seasons remaining on a seven-year contract he signed with the Sharks in 2018.

Selected with the fourth pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, Kane has tallied 506 points – 264 goals and 242 assists – in 769 regular-season games with the Atlanta Thrashers, Jets, Buffalo Sabres and Sharks, while he has managed 13 points (six goals and seven assists) in 29 Stanley Cup playoff appearances

"The NHL has advised our organisation that Evander Kane has been suspended without pay for 21 games for an established violation of, and lack of compliance with, the NHL/NHLPA COVID-19 Protocols," the Sharks said in a statement.

"While we are encouraged by Evander's commitment to moving forward, we are extremely disappointed by his disregard for the health and safety protocols put in place by the NHL and the NHLPA. We will not be commenting further on Evander's status prior to the conclusion of the NHL's mandated suspension."

The Seattle Kraken celebrated history on Thursday by defeating the Nashville Predators 4-3 for their first ever NHL win.

In the expansion franchise's second game, the Kraken claimed an historic victory thanks to Brandon Tanev's two goals away to the Predators in Nashville.

The Kraken were beaten 4-3 by the Vegas Golden Knights on their debut, despite leading 3-0 on Tuesday.

But the Kraken were not to be denied a second time, Tanev's empty-net goal with just over a minute remaining sealing the memorable win on the road.

"I think you saw a little bit of that stress in us in our play in the third period," said Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol.

"Guys were calm and pretty focused. I know guys were really excited to be able to get the first win, especially as it sinks in. It's the first win in franchise history, that's a big deal for everybody."

Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer, who made 12 saves in the third period, added: "I think it's phenomenal.

"It doesn't only speak for the group, it speaks for the organisation and rewards the people that put in the work for two years or longer."

The Seattle Kraken fell just short in a thrilling comeback attempt as they made their NHL debut at the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.

Trailing 3-0 in the second period, Seattle got their historic first goal through Ryan Donato before Jared McCann made it 3-2 just 72 seconds later.

Morgan Geekie levelled matters in the third, but the Golden Knights got the decisive seventh goal in controversial fashion through Chandler Stephenson.

Donato, a second-round pick for the Boston Bruins in the 2014 Entry Draft, said there was enough experience across the team to know they could recover from that early deficit even though the franchise is only in its first season.

"We just came together," said Donato. "We obviously hadn't been in that situation before, but we've all played on different teams and been in that situation on other teams. We knew as soon as we got one, the others would come."

Geekie, who managed two goals and an assist on a sparkling NHL debut for the Carolina Hurricanes last March, was delighted to have been part of a moment of history in Nevada.

"It's a spectacular city and they put on quite a show," the center said. "It was more exciting than anything, and to be a part of the new franchise is something special to be a part of."

Stephenson's goal came after the puck deflected in off his skate from a pass by Mark Stone, who had forced a turnover.

It was allowed to stand after a video review determined there was no intentional kicking motion on Stephenson's part – although he admitted he did not know if the goal would count at the time.

"I wasn't really too sure," Stephenson said. "I was kind of asking around what the ruling was, and I guess it being on the outside of my skate helped."

A frustrated Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said: "I know what I saw and believed. I thought it was a kicking motion. There's a grey area on those calls."

Next up for the Kraken is a visit to the Bridgestone Arena on Thursday to face the Nashville Predators.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said only four players have not received the COVID-19 vaccine as the 2021-22 season got underway on Tuesday.

Bettman hailed the vaccination rates prior to the season-opening game between two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

It comes as other sports struggle with the coronavirus virus status of some of their players – NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the Brooklyn Nets until he is allowed to be a full participant as he remains unvaccinated.

"Our vaccination rate is incredible," Bettman said. "Four players, not four percent of players. All of our officials are vaccinated. All of the personnel that come into contact with the players are vaccinated."

Bettman added: "Throughout all of this, we had great collaboration and cooperation with the players and Players' Association. This doesn't happen to get to this point without that collaboration and cooperation. Yes, the players have stepped up to get vaccinated, but even thinking about how the players had to function the last two years, to go into the bubble.

"I spent three weeks there, I get it, but there were some who had to spend eight weeks there. Having to adhere to the protocols last season so we could administer 330,000 tests to keep everybody healthy.

"The fact that we were in the bubble and I think we did 35,000 tests and didn't have one positive. Everybody banded together to do the right thing. Maybe that's why hockey is the ultimate team sport."

"We continue to reinforce the fact that everybody has to remain vigilant, particularly when we have teams traveling the way our teams typically do so we don't lose sight of this fact," Bettman said. "It's something we take very seriously."

 

NHL stars are set to return to Olympic ice hockey at Beijing next February after being forced to miss the 2018 Winter Games, it was revealed on Friday.

An agreement was struck after months of discussions between the NHL, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

At the time of players being barred from competing at PyeongChang three years ago, it was reported the main sticking points were the cost of insuring and transporting players while on Olympic duty.

The International Olympic Committee said, in announcing the return of elite stars from the NHL, that it was "travel costs, television timings in North America, and league scheduling" that had prevented their participation last time out.

Full details of the new deal that will allow NHL stars to travel to China have yet to be disclosed, and players could yet be prevented from travelling if COVID-19 circumstances concern the league.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said: "We understand how passionately NHL players feel about representing and competing for their countries.

"We are very pleased that we were able to conclude arrangements that will allow them to resume best on best competition on the Olympic stage."

IIHF president Rene Fasel hailed the commitment, saying: "I know that I can speak for hockey fans around the world when I say that we absolutely welcome the decision to bring back best-on-best ice hockey to the Olympics.

"We had many constructive discussions, and a lot of hard work was put into making this happen within the time we set for ourselves, and I want to thank all parties involved for their support and commitment."

Players from the NHL had previously featured at each Games from Nagano 1998 through to Sochi 2014, before their absence was keenly felt in South Korea. The Winter Olympics ice hockey programme in 2022 is due to run from February 3-20, with the NHL having cleared a block in its season to allow for stars to compete.

The NHL and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) indicated in a statement that any COVID-19 doubts could mean there is a change to their stance further down the line.

The statement read: "The agreement allows for the possibility of a later decision to withdraw in the event evolving COVID conditions are deemed by the NHL/NHLPA to render participation by NHL players to be impractical or unsafe."

With Canada and the United States hamstrung by having to field weakened teams in PyeongChang, it was the Olympic Athletes from Russia team who took gold in the men's final, beating Germany after overtime. Canada won bronze, with the United States exiting in the quarter-finals.

The 2021-22 NHL regular season is due to run from October 12 to April 29.

New York Rangers great Henrik Lundqvist retired from the NHL after a stellar 15-year career in the league.

A five-time All-Star and Vezina Trophy recipient as the NHL's top goaltender in 2011-12, Lundqvist made the announcement on Friday.

Lundqvist signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals for the 2020-21 season, but the 39-year-old never made an appearance after undergoing open-heart surgery in January.

The Swede finished his NHL career with a 459-310-96 record, a 2.43 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and 64 shutouts in 15 seasons with the Rangers, while he went 61-67 with a 2.30 GAA, .921 save percentage and 10 shutouts in 130 Stanley Cup playoff games.

Lundqvist ranks sixth in NHL history in wins, seventh in saves (23,509), eighth in games played (887), ninth in starts (871), ninth in time on ice (51,816:51) and 17th in shutouts.

"Obviously there are a lot of emotions right now," Lundqvist said at a news conference in Sweden. "For me, it started here in Scandinavium when I was five years old I saw my first hockey game here. That's how it started.

"I also want to thank all the coaches and all the players that I've had the opportunity to play with and I want to thank all the clubs that I've represented. Jarpen, where it all starter, Rogle BK, Frolunda of course, and the New York Rangers. All of them have meant so much to me during that time and place. A big part of my life has been dedicated to those teams.

"At last I want to thank all the fans. I've felt so much support here at home playing for Frolunda and the national team, and in New York. It's been giving me so much joy to feel that support. I will be forever grateful for it. ... That is obviously something that I will miss, the intense feeling of being in a rink competing."

Initially drafted in 2000, Lundqvist enjoyed an outstanding rookie season in 2005-06, ranking fourth for save percentage (92.2 per cent) and fifth-lowest for goals against average (2.24). 

The 2011-12 campaign brought Vezina Trophy recognition as he kept eight shutouts in 62 games, again ranking fourth for save percentage (93.0 per cent) and fifth-lowest for goals against average (1.97). 

Lundqvist did enjoy success at international level with Sweden as he claimed a gold medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2017 Ice Hockey World Championships.

He is the Rangers' leader in wins, shutouts, games played, starts, saves, time on ice and goalie points (27, all assists). Lundqvist is also New York's postseason leader in wins, shutouts, games played, games started, saves and time on ice.

"It is with mixed emotions that The New York Rangers offer our best wishes and heartfelt gratitude to Henrik Lundqvist on the announcement of his retirement," the Rangers said in a statement. "Henrik's commitment to excellence made him one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game of hockey, and we are so fortunate to have witnessed his greatness firsthand for 15 years.

"As we congratulate Henrik on an extraordinary career and a lasting legacy of success, charity and character, we are honoured to announce that we will retire his number and raise his jersey to the rafters at an upcoming game this season. Henrik is, and always will be, a Ranger."

Alex Ovechkin’s pursuit of the NHL’s all-time record for goals scored will continue with the only franchise he has ever played for after the Washington Capitals re-signed their captain to a five-year, $47.5 million contract on Tuesday.

Ovechkin, drafted first overall by the Capitals in 2004, is the franchise leader in games played (1,197), goals (730) and points (1,320) since making his NHL debut in 2005-06. He led the Capitals to their first Stanley Cup championship in 2018.

Ovechkin’s $124 million, 13-year contract was set to expire before NHL free agency officially begins on Wednesday.

''Alex is the face of our franchise and is committed to this organisation and this city,'' Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. '

"'Alex embodies what our franchise is all about, and we're thrilled that he will continue his career in the Caps uniform for the next five years.''

Ovechkin’s 730 career goals rank sixth all-time behind Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801), Jaromir Jagr (766), Brett Hull (741) and Marcel Dionne (731).

Now signed through the 2025-26 season, Ovechkin – who turns 36 in September – would have to average nearly 33 goals per season during the life of his new contract to surpass Gretzky

Nashville Predators' defenseman Luke Prokop has announced he is gay, making him the first contracted NHL player to come out publicly.

Prokop, 19, is yet to make his debut in the NHL but marked a historic day on Monday as he made his announcement on Instagram.

"It has been quite the journey to get to this point in my life, but I could not be happier with my decision to come out," Prokop wrote in his post.

"From a young age I have dreamed of being an NHL player, and I believe that living my authentic life will allow me to bring my whole self to the rink and improve my chances of fulfilling my dreams."

Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Prokop was selected as a third-round draft pick by the Predators in the 2020 NHL Draft.

He signed a three-year deal after previously impressing for Calgary Hitmen in the Western Hockey League.

Prokop's decision to come out follows that of Las Vegas Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib, who became the first openly gay active NFL player last month.

"It's been very special, talking to my friends, my family, my coaches, my agents," Prokop told The Athletic. "And them being very supportive, me coming out and being OK with who I was. ... I've noticed myself being a lot more confident on the ice.

"Being able to truly be who I am. This is the best I've ever felt in the summer and I think a large part of that is due to this process of me coming out."

Having made his decision in April during the COVID-19 enforced season break, Prokop told three of his Hitmen team-mates and hopes he can inspire others to feel comfortable coming out.

"They've [Prokop's team-mates] been really great," he added. "The part of me coming out is that I'm just one of the guys.

"Who I love and who I go home with that night, that's private and it shouldn't matter anymore. I'm just there to play hockey, I'm there to win a championship.

"If I can inspire or help make a difference to one person, then I've done my job in wanting to create change and to create an environment where it's healthy for players to come out now."

Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said in a statement on Monday that the league would support Prokop and praised him for "sharing his truth and for being so brave".

"We pledge to do everything possible to ensure that Luke's experience is a welcoming and affirmative one and continue to work to ensure that any current or future NHL player contemplating following in his trailblazing footsteps knows our League is ready to provide full support."

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper says his side were motivated to win before the group likely breaks up this offseason after lifting the Stanley Cup on Wednesday.

The Lightning won 1-0 over the Montreal Canadiens at Tampa's Amalie Arena to clinch a 4-1 Stanley Cup Finals triumph, lifting the trophy for the third time in franchise history.

Ross Colton, who along with David Savard has been linked with an offseason move away from Tampa, scored the only goal of the game in the second period to seal the back-to-back Stanley Cup triumphs.

"We didn’t talk about it publicly, the team knows they are probably not going to be together next year," Cooper said post-game.

"It was led by Ryan McDonagh, [Patrick] Maroon and [David] Savard, that was the conservation, 'don’t let this end, it's too special a group'.

"They weren’t going to go out without raising the trophy."

The Lightning's domination in recent years has seen them not lose consecutive playoff games since the first round of the 2019 series.

Cooper added: "It's a culmination of your whole life's work. Character that can trump skill. This group has it, gamers all over the place. The players did it. I just sat their chewing gum."

Maroon earned special praise, as he celebrated lifting his third consecutive Stanley Cup, after the left-winger triumphed with the St Louis Blues in 2018-19.

"This was one special," Maroon said. "It's hard to win. [I'm] Blessed to be a part of good teams.

"It's hard to go back-to-back. To be a part of a group that's so special, it's really good.

"You can put me in some good company. I'm truly blessed."

The Montreal Canadiens are still believing after Josh Anderson's overtime goal helped them stave off a rare Stanley Cup Final series sweep with a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.

The Canadiens killed off a four-minute penalty to captain Shea Weber in overtime before Anderson's goal forced a Game 5 in Tampa, with the series at 3-1 in favour of the reigning NHL champions.

Montreal would have become the first side to suffer a clean sweep defeat in the Final series since 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings won 4-0 over the Washington Capitals.

Instead, the Canadiens are the first team to score in overtime to avoid a sweep in the Stanley Cup Final since the Bruins did it in 1946 against the Canadiens.

"We didn't want to end it tonight in front of our fans," Anderson said at the post-game news conference. "We expected to go to Tampa.

"I think everybody in that locker room packed their bags this afternoon. We just had that feeling that we were going to win tonight and give ourselves a chance to go there, take care of business, and come home in front of our fans. We're in a good position now."

If Montreal can win Game 5 in Tampa, they will have home rink advantage for Game 6 at the Bell Centre. Montreal are 4-0 when facing elimination this postseason.

Anderson said the Canadiens' grit to hang on during Weber's four-minute penalty showed they could overcome adversity.

"Our penalty kill has been outstanding all playoffs, so we came back to the room and we just believed in each other," Anderson said.

"We weren't down. It was all positive things in the room. We just had to execute. I thought we did a phenomenal job.

"Carey [Price] was a wall tonight. He gave us that chance to finish it in overtime. Everyone stuck together and did their jobs."

Interim Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme added: "We're proud of what we accomplished tonight, but we don't want to just avoid seeing the Lightning players holding the Stanley Cup.

"We have no intention of stopping now. We want to go to Tampa and come back to play another game here."

Game 5 is at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Wednesday.

Reigning NHL champions the Tampa Bay Lightning are focused on closing out their Stanley Cup Final series against the Montreal Canadiens in Monday's Game 4. 

The Lightning moved to the brink of a sweep with their 6-3 win in Montreal on Friday, but have been confined to their hotel rooms for most of their stay in Canada due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Tampa Bay know they will be heading home after Monday's game regardless, either for Game 5 on Tuesday or as back-to-back Stanley Cup winners, but the Lightning have left no doubt which option they prefer. 

"I think for us, we've been in this position before," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos told reporters on Sunday. "We understand the magnitude of the game and we understand that we really are, as much as it's cliché to say, we're focussed on the start of next game.

"All those other things work themselves out. You never know what's going to happen in the course of a game or a series. We're focussed on our start next game. We want to come out extremely hard. We realise, both teams understand the situation that they're in. We're excited for the challenge."

In last season's Final, the Lightning had a chance to clinch at home in Game 5 as they held a 2-1 lead in the third period but saw the Dallas Stars tie the contest, then win it in double overtime on a goal by Corey Perry, who is now with the Canadiens. 

Tampa Bay would emerge victorious in Game 6 to take the Cup and would love nothing more than to do so again this year without all the drama. 

"It's a learning process to go through that," said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. "By no means does that guarantee the results of what's going to happen in [Monday's] game, but I know our mindset's different going into these closeout games. ...

"It's about winning, it's not about where you win. And that's all we care about."

Sweeps are rare in the Stanley Cup Final, as the Detroit Red Wings were the last to do it in 1998 against the Washington Capitals, but history is on Tampa Bay's side. 

The only NHL team to blow a 3-0 lead in the Finals are the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who ultimately fell to the Red Wings in seven. 

On the verge of a second straight Cup, the Lightning do not need to be reminded of the stakes. 

"You're in the Stanley Cup Final. You're playing against a great team over there," Stamkos said. "We've said it from whether it's the first round or the Stanley Cup Final, the fourth game is always the hardest to win. And that's the mentality we've had.

"Sometimes it takes four games. Sometimes seven. We expect that this group is going to be ready to play, and we expect that their group is going to be ready to play. No games are easy at this time of the year.

"I think for us, it's easy not to look past that. We know the difficulty of the Montreal Canadiens and what they bring to the table, and for us, it's another game."

The Tampa Bay Lightning moved to the brink of a second successive Stanley Cup triumph after a fast start helped them overcome the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3.

Jan Rutta and Victor Hedman both scored to give the Lightning an early 2-0 lead, in the process making it the first game in finals history where a team has got multiple goals from defensemen within the opening five minutes.

The Canadiens managed to halve the deficit but conceded twice more at the start of the second period, leaving them with a task they were unable to scale.

Tyler Johnson grabbed a brace as Tampa Bay ran out 6-3 winners, a result that leaves them on the cusp of glory in the best-of-seven series. However, Hedman insists there is still work to do, with Game 4 in Montreal on Monday.

"We're not there yet," Hedman, who also registered an assist, said. "We put ourselves in a good position obviously, but the fourth one is the hardest one to get. 

"We're going to do whatever it takes to win the next game. We've got more work to do, and we're not satisfied until we're done."

Montreal managed more shots on goal (35-30), though the disparity was not quite the same as in Game 2. The Canadiens had 43 attempts in the previous encounter compared to Tampa Bay's total of 23, yet still lost 3-1.

Phillip Danault, Nick Suzuki and Corey Perry were on target for Montreal in a losing cause on Friday, though they left themselves with too much to do after a disastrous start to proceedings.

"We put ourselves in a hole early, and it's tough to dig yourself out of a hole against a team like that, that plays pretty stingy," Canadiens captain Shea Weber said.

However, there is still hope for the Canadiens, who were down 3-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs before rallying to keep their season alive.

Dominique Ducharme is in interim charge after Claude Julien was fired during the regular season, though the former had been absent for the first two games of the finals while self-isolating following a positive COVID-19 test result.

"We didn't quit the whole year, no matter what was being said," center Danault said. "When it was 3-1 Toronto we didn't quit. And I can guarantee that nobody on the team is going to quit now."

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