Win one for the Tanger? It was something like that, team captain Sidney Crosby said Thursday as the Pittsburgh Penguins played their first game since news broke that top defenseman Kris Letang had had a stroke earlier this week.
The Penguins came from behind to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3.
Crosby, who had an assist, said things weren’t as direct as the players sitting around the locker room before or during the game calling for a win in Letang’s name.
“I think it’s just understood,” Crosby said. “It’s not something that really needs to be talked about that much.
“I think you see the way the guys compete and rally. I’d like to think we have a lot of effort every night, but it seemed there was a little bit more urgency and desperation tonight.”
Crosby, Letang and center Evgeni Malkin have spent nearly half their lives as teammates. They are in their 17th season together with the Penguins, an NHL record for any trio.
They have won three Stanley Cups together. They have become good friends.
Early indications are that they will be on the ice together again at some point. Letang faces more tests and medical evaluation.
A migraine he had Monday led him to contact team medical staff, which led to the diagnosis of a stroke – his second one in eight years. Coach Mike Sullivan, with Letang by his side, told the team following Tuesday’s overtime loss against Carolina. The Penguins made the news public Wednesday.
“It’s not what you expect to hear, that’s for sure,” Crosby said. “I think once I talked to him and felt like there was a lot of optimism surrounding everything, I think it was not as shocking maybe. Having gone through it with him before and knowing him well and seeing how he handled it … everyone seemed really optimistic.
“It’s not something you want to hear, but with that, everyone’s on the same page and just wants to see him get better, however long that takes.”
Letang’s resilience and optimism – he convinced the medical staff to let him take a short skate Thursday morning – makes it easier for Crosby and the others to stand by the long-time alternate captain.
“For anybody to hear that and have the outlook that he does, he’s got a great mentality and we’ll all be here to support him,” Crosby said.
It’s unclear how long Letang might be out, but initial reports show that he should be able to resume his career. He was out a little more than two months after he had a stroke in 2014, and Penguins general manager Ron Hextall said this time it is less severe.
Crosby said his long-time friend is in good spirits so far.
“Yeah, he seems to be, especially given the news and having to go through this for a second time,” Crosby said. “I’m sure it wasn’t easy to hear, and I’m sure he had a lot of questions, but his mindset’s definitely strong. … Hope he’s feeling good and eventually back with us.”
Letang is a fixture on the Penguins’ top pairing and plays in all situations. He has been a high-minutes player for many years. And he’s become, like Crosby, one of the team leaders.
“He’s experienced. He plays a ton of minutes. He definitely has the presence on and off the ice,” Crosby said. “It’s not easy replacing him. It’ll take everyone to contribute and find ways to chip in, but today was a great example of that. Different guys stepped up.”