Kris Letang returns vs. Red Wings

PITTSBURGH -- Less than three months after a stroke put his season in jeopardy, Kris Letang is back to work for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The defenseman made his return Wednesday night as the Penguins hosted the Detroit Red Wings, winning 4-3 in a shootout. The 26-year-old hadn't played since Jan. 27. Two days later, he suffered a stroke after feeling dizzy and nauseated.

Letang had an assist while playing 22 minutes, 30 seconds in his return.

Letang was cleared by doctors several weeks ago and convinced general manager Ray Shero he was OK during a series of conversations while traveling with the team on a road trip last week.

Letang joined the Penguins for practice Wednesday morning.

"I'm happy, obviously," Letang said after the practice. "I think it was a decision between me and him. It's a relief, and I'm really happy to have a chance to play."

Although doctors have not pinpointed the cause of the stroke, a small hole in Letang's heart might have been a factor. Letang has been taken off blood-thinner medication, but his condition will be monitored.

Letang and Shero are convinced the 2013 Norris Trophy finalist is not putting himself at greater risk by playing.

"To return to play hockey, he's at no further risk to suffer a stroke than he would be going to the grocery store," Shero said.

Shero joked that Letang had "been bugging me for a while" about a possible comeback. While Letang has been practicing since March 17, he expected to be "nervous" when he pulled on his No. 56 sweater. Then again, it was a moment he had been anticipating since he received the stunning diagnosis.

"My first reaction was 'When am I going to skate again? When am I going to play again?'" Letang said. "It has always been in the back of my mind that I want to come back."

Letang now has 10 goals and nine assists in 35 games for the Penguins, who have already wrapped up the Metropolitan Division title.

"We're happy to see him back," Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby said. "It's been a long process for him and probably not an easy one."

Letang is the latest high-profile player to return from injury as Pittsburgh gears up for the postseason. Defenseman Paul Martin came back last week after injuring his hand while playing for Team USA in the Sochi Olympics, and center Evgeni Malkin's foot injury is expected to be healed by the start of the playoffs.

"We do know that a healthy Kris Letang makes us better," Shero said.

Letang promised to keep things "simple" while he gets back up to speed. The past two months have been difficult, but he has no concerns about pressing forward as the Penguins search for their first Stanley Cup since 2009.

"I feel 100 percent," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.