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Dec 20 (Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) has shut down the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens at least through Dec. 26 due to the continued spread of COVID-19, it announced on Monday, with nine of the league’s 32 teams now paused.

The NHL said the Blue Jackets’ remaining two games before the holiday break, against the Buffalo Sabres later on Monday and at the Sabres on Thursday, were postponed, bringing the total number of games postponed this season to 42.

Montreal’s remaining games before the break had already been postponed.

The NHL, which will shut down from Friday to Sunday for Christmas, said the decision was made in consultation with the NHL players’ association (NHLPA) and the club medical groups.

“A decision on when each team’s training facilities will re-open will be made by the league and the NHLPA in the coming days,” the NHL said in a statement.

“The league is in the process of reviewing and revising the regular season schedule.”

The decision to shut down Columbus and Montreal comes a day after the NHL said that cross-border games will be postponed through the holiday break due to the concern about cross-border travel and “the fluid nature of federal travel restrictions.”

The NHL had already shut down the Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Nashville Predators, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers because of the rising number of players testing positive for the virus. read more

The disruptions to the league schedule cloud the NHL’s plans to send the world’s top players to the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Olympics.

The NHL agreed to a break in its schedule to allow players to compete in Beijing with the caveat that it could withdraw on its own if an abundance of COVID-19 disruptions forced games to be rescheduled during the Olympic window.

The NHL and NHLPA said on Sunday said they were in discussions and expect to make a decision in the coming days about whether to participate in the Beijing Games. read more

The NHL has until Jan. 10 to withdraw from the Beijing Olympics without financial penalty.

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