- Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.
Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to the lineup on Saturday just 12 days after suffering the second stroke of his career on Nov. 28.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan previously announced Letang was “available” to draw in against the Buffalo Sabres after a five-game absence and would ultimately be a game-time decision.
Letang returns to a streaking Penguins club that is on a 12-2-2 run and is hosting Buffalo on back end of back-to-back games. On Friday night, the Penguins outlasted the Sabres, 4-3.
Letang, 35, who has one goal and 12 points in 21 games, was able to resume practicing Thursday and said he felt “pretty good.” It was a quicker turnaround than what Letang experienced in 2014, when he was sidelined nearly two months and 26 games following the first stroke.
In both instances, it was a small hole in Letang’s heart causing the issue. But the second stroke — precipitated by debilitating headaches and nausea — was indicated by Pittsburgh’s team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas to be “much smaller” than the first.
While it was a relief for the Penguins to see Letang at Thursday’s session, Vyas said at the time there was no hurry for Letang to get back in a game.
“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 biggest concern for Letang — a married father of two — has been his family. He said going through the experience a second time was “scary” and prioritizing their collective healthy future was the priority.
“My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” Letang said on 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.”
Letang signed a six-year contract extension last summer that should take him to the end of his career in Pittsburgh. Vyas said it’s unclear if Letang is more susceptible to strokes moving forward, so the defenseman is prepared for whatever outcomes may be ahead.
“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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