BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -Islanders defenseman Sean Hill was hit with a 20-game suspension by the NHL on Friday - just hours before New York faced elimination from the playoffs - for violating the league's drug policy.
Hill's ban began Friday night when the Islanders faced the Buffalo Sabres in Game 5 of the first round Eastern Conference playoff series. The earliest Hill could return to the lineup would be the Stanley Cup finals.
He is the first player to be suspended under the NHL's performance-enhancing substances program.
Islanders general manager Garth Snow said the team supported the NHL's decision to suspend Hill.
"The New York Islanders do not support the use of performance-enhancing agents in any form," Snow said. "As for tonight, we have a game an hour away, and that's what we're going to be focused on from here on out."
Snow spoke for 30 seconds, reading from a brief statement, and did not take any questions.
Islanders coach Ted Nolan declined comment outside the team's locker room. Team spokesman Chris Botta said Hill traveled home to Long Island before the game.
Rookie defenseman Drew Fata made his career playoff debut in Hill's place. Fata appeared in three regular-season games this season and scored one goal.
New York started the day in a 3-1 hole to top-seeded Buffalo in the best-of-seven matchup.
The 37-year-old Hill signed a one-year deal worth $600,000 last summer and is eligible to be a free agent again in the upcoming offseason. If the Islanders don't play 19 more playoff games this year, Hill's suspension will continue next season without pay.
Hill showed no sign Thursday, before the Islanders flew to Buffalo, that anything was amiss. He joined the rest of his teammates in talking about putting several controversial calls in consecutive home losses this week behind them as they prepared for Game 5.
"If we can use it as a motivational tool, that would be great. If we can't, we just have to put it behind us," he said Thursday. "It doesn't matter what happened in the last game, it doesn't matter what happened in the previous games. We have to focus all our energy on that one game. If we do that we'll have a good outcome."
Hill, who missed only one regular-season game with the Islanders, had one goal, 24 assists and a plus-6 rating in 81 contests. He had no points and was a minus-1 in the first four playoff games against the Sabres.
As part of the new collective bargaining agreement that ended the yearlong lockout in 2005, a player receives a 20-game suspension for a first positive test and is subject to a mandatory referral to the league's substance abuse-behavioral health program for evaluation, education and possible treatment.
Every NHL player can be given up to two "no-notice" tests every year, with at least one conducted on a team-wide basis. Players can be given a "no-notice" test at any time.
Sabres defenseman Brian Campbell said Buffalo players were tested twice during the regular season.
"Who knows what happened?" Campbell said, before the game. "I feel bad for him that it's happened. You don't know what it is until everything comes out. ... You just have to be careful all the time."
Hill, a Duluth, Minn., native, was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the eighth round of the 1988 draft. In 841 career regular-season games, Hill has recorded 60 goals and 229 assists for 289 points.
He played with the Canadiens in the 1991 and 1992 playoffs - winning a Stanley Cup ring during his rookie year - before ever dressing for an NHL regular-season game.
Hill spent the 2005-06 season with the Florida Panthers, following three with Carolina, before signing with the Islanders. He is the second Islanders player to be given a lengthy suspension by the NHL in just over a month.
Hard-hitting forward Chris Simon received a record ban of at least 25 games, that ended his season and could carry into the next campaign, for striking Ryan Hollweg of the New York Rangers with a two-handed swing of his stick.
Simon served the 20th game of the NHL's longest suspension for on-ice violence Friday. He is ineligible to return to the playoffs this year and will have to sit out any remaining games next year should the Islanders fail to play five more this season.
AP Sports Writer Ira Podell in New York contributed to this story.