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Penguins defenseman Kris Letang cleared to play 2 months after stroke; will face Red Wings

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

The defenseman makes his return on Wednesday night when the Penguins host the Detroit Red Wings. The 26-year-old hasn't played since Jan. 27. Two days later, he suffered a stroke after feeling dizzy and nauseous.

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.

"I'm happy, obviously," Letang said Wednesday after 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."

Though doctors have not pinpointed the cause of the stroke, a small hole in Letang's heart may have been a factor. Letang's 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.

PHOTO: FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2013 file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang skates during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh. Letang will play on Wednesday night, April 9, 2014, against the Detroit Red Wings, more than two months after suffering a stroke. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 25, 2013 file photo, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang skates during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders in Pittsburgh. Letang will play on Wednesday night, April 9, 2014, against the Detroit Red Wings, more than two months after suffering a stroke. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Shero joked that Letang has "been bugging me for awhile" about a possible comeback. While Letang has been practicing since March 17, he expects to be "nervous" when he pulls on his No. 56 sweater. Then again, it's a moment he's 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 has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 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 last 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.

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