Kris Letang returned as if he had never left

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Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to the lineup last night just 12 days after suffering the second stroke of his career. Head Coach Mike Sullivan put Letang on the second defensive pairing with Pierre-Olivier Joseph. He was initially deemed a game-time decision but ended up playing over 20 minutes in the Penguins’ 3-1 win over the Sabres. He finished with seven hits, three blocked shots, and two penalty minutes.

Letang said following the win, “It feels great. As I was starting to feel better, you get anxious, you want to go back out there. With the schedule, we don’t have a chance to practice that much. So tried to prepare the best I could. Timing needs to get a little better, but the legs were there.”

Letang returned to the lineup as the Penguins would win their fifth straight game. The Penguins improved to 13-2-2 after their win last night. Letang has one goal and 12 points in 22 games this season and resumed practicing on Thursday at Cranberry. Letang returned to the lineup much quicker than his first stroke, which sidelined him for 26 games in 2014.

“When I started feeling better, obviously, I ramped up the intensity in practice, but there was a couple of things we had to wait on,” Letang said. “Like blood tests, stuff like that, just to make sure I can go into contact. Once it was clear, I got the green light.”

A hole in his heart caused both strokes, but the second stroke was deemed much smaller than the first. On Thursday, team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas said there was no hurry for Letang to return to the lineup following the team’s practice. 

“We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play, and when that time comes, we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

The one thing that has been Letang’s most significant concern has been his family. He is married and has two children. He said that going through this a second time was scary and that he wanted to do what was best for his family’s future over his playing career. 

“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” Letang said Thursday. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time, and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

The Penguins re-signed Letang to a six-year contract extension in the summer that is likely to end his career in Pittsburgh. Although it is unclear if he could have another stroke in the future, Letang said that he is prepared for whatever happens in the future. 

“Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding,” Letang said, “that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

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Nik Shermeto

PT ‘23 | 🇺🇸/🇨🇦 | Penguins writer for Inside The Rink | Thoughts are my own.

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