Defenseman Kris Letang, who was out of the lineup for five games due to headaches stemming from a hit to the head Feb. 29, has been cleared to play against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Letang said he's a little surprised to be back so quickly.
"I was scared a little bit during that game," said Letang, who suffered the injury on a hit by Stars forward Eric Nystrom. "Looking back at it, the symptoms were not that bad. I was able to rehabilitate easier."
Letang was never diagnosed with a concussion this time around, but he missed nearly two months with a concussion suffered in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 26. In a strange coincidence, Letang also returned from that injury to face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19. In that contest, he had an assist and was plus-2 in 24:17.
Coach Dan Bylsma said he doesn't expect to give Letang a full workload, but he said the same thing before that Jan. 19 game as well. Letang hasn't had the same layoff this time around, and said the symptoms from the Nystrom hit weren't as severe as the ones he felt after the hit by Montreal's Max Pacioretty.
"The first time I got dizzy and I got sick," Letang said. "It was just a question of headaches (this time). It wasn't that bad."
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek said the importance of having Letang back can't be underestimated.
"It's huge," Michalek said. "He's been such a great player for us. He's having a good season and playing so many big minutes against other teams' top lines. He might be one of the top d-men in the League. He maybe doesn't get the credit he deserves in the League and it's great to have him back. I'm glad he's healthy again."
The Penguins have won nine straight games and have climbed to within six points of the Rangers in the chase for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have played most of the season without their big guns, and Thursday's game will be the fifth this season that the Penguins will have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in the lineup.
The best may have yet to come for the now-healthy Penguins.
"Everybody looks at our lineup right and everyone's healthy, but you never know," Letang said. "The chemistry we had before…I think we have a pretty tight group and I think we can do a lot of great stuff. But we have to get everybody going at the same time."
"We are not worrying about who's in the lineup or who's not, we're just playing our game and we've done a pretty good job of it so far this season," Michalek said. "Obviously it's a great boost for our team to have some of the top players in the world back in our lineup. In the long run, it will definitely be a boost for our team. It's exciting, just the way we are playing right now. Having these guys back, we know we have the potential."
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Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.
— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals