The NHL took an unprecedented step on Wednesday, suspending Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw for one Stanley Cup playoff game after cameras captured him using homophobic slurs during Chicago’s Game 4 loss a night earlier.

It’s the first time an NHL player has been suspended by the league for using a homophobic slur.

Shaw was also fined $5,000 for “directing an inappropriate gesture” at on-ice officials when he raised both middle fingers their way. He will be required to undergo sensitivity training, as mandated by the league.

He will miss Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night with the defending Stanley Cup champions on the brink of elimination. He is tied for the team lead in postseason scoring with four points in four games.

“While Mr. Shaw was apologetic and remorseful for both the offensive comments and the inappropriate gesture directed at the on-ice officials, he must be held accountable for his actions,” NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations, Colin Campbell, said in a statement. “The emotion of the moment cannot and will not be a mitigating factor for the conduct that is expected of an NHL player.”

Shaw, 24, initially said after Tuesday night’s game that he did not know what he said on the ice. It wasn’t until he got home and watched the video that he learned the reach of his voice.

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Shaw owned up to his words on Wednesday with a brief statement, offering an apology to the gay and lesbian community. The forward said he couldn’t sleep after his homophobic slurs circulated on social media.

“I am sincerely sorry for the insensitive remarks that I made last night while in the penalty box,” Shaw said in his statement. “When I got home and saw the video, it was evident that what I did was wrong, no matter the circumstances. I apologize to many people, including the gay and lesbian community, the Chicago Blackhawks organization, Blackhawks fans and anyone else I may have offended. I know my words were hurtful and I will learn from my mistake.”

An emotional Shaw then met with the media briefly before the Blackhawks’ flight to St. Louis for Game 5. He also personally apologized to Chicago Tribune Blackhawks beat reporter Christopher Hine, who is gay.

“I have no excuses for anything,” Shaw told reporters. “I’ll never use that word again, that’s for sure.”

The Blackhawks also released a statement condemning Shaw’s actions, but left discipline in the hands of the league, despite saying the team does not “stand for” his actions.

“We are extremely disappointed in Andrew Shaw’s actions last night,” the Blackhawks statement read. “His comments do not reflect what we stand for as an organization. We are proud to have an inclusive and respectful environment and to support various initiatives such as the You Can Play Project and the Chicago Gay Hockey Association. We will use this opportunity to further educate our players and organization moving forward, so that we all may learn from it.”

Previously, the NHL sought to discipline Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds in 2011 for the same homophobic slur, but could not corroborate that he used it. Simmonds later denied using it.

In 1997, the league suspended Chris Simon, then with the Washington Capitals, for three games for directing a racial slur toward Mike Grier of the Edmonton Oilers.
In December, the NBA suspended Sacramento Kings player Rajon Rondo one game for repeated use of the same homophobic slur. Referee Bill Kennedy, the subject of Rondo’s abuse, later revealed he is gay.

The NHL has been a longtime partner of the You Can Play Project, which was founded by current NHL director of player safety Patrick Burke, to foster a safe environment for LGBT athletes by eradicating homophobia in locker rooms.

Wednesday’s suspension to Shaw sent a strong message to the rest of the league that slurs of any kind will not be tolerated, that players will no longer be able to hide under the guise of high emotion or using trash talk as part of hockey gamesmanship.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli