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NHL notes: Kris Letang, Kari Lehtonen take ice; more

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Kris Letang;s stroke is just one of the misfortunes that have befallen the Penguins' blueline corps.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Kris Letang darted down the Consol Energy Center ice, the defenseman's black hair flicking out from underneath his helmet.

Everything looked in place. The speed. The agility. The slick stickwork.

Yet for as polished as Letang appeared during his first workout alongside his teammates in nearly two months on Monday, the 26-year-old remains uncertain when he'll be able to pull his No. 58 sweater over his head and suit up in an actual game.

Consider it part of the fallout from the scariest moment of Letang's life.

Seven weeks after a stroke blindsided him, Letang remains optimistic he will play again this season but too cautious to throw out a date.

"I was on the ice today because I want to return," Letang said. "I'll be able to play again. I don't know when."

Neither does his coach. Dan Bylsma pointed out that unlike defenseman Paul Martin - who remains sidelined with a right hand problem - concrete signs of progress for Letang are tougher to glean. Throwing an arbitrary timeline out there wouldn't do any good because things can change in an instant.

"There's no date to be determined for Kris," Bylsma said. "Right now he's back in a full practice. That's a good thing."

One the Penguins hope will send a bit of a jolt through a constantly churning lineup that has stagnated in Letang's absence.

The Penguins are just 7-5-2 since Letang fell ill on Jan. 28 and while their spot atop the Metropolitan Division remains secure, they have ceded the top spot in the Eastern Conference to the Boston Bruins.

The slide includes a home-and-home sweep by Philadelphia over the weekend in which Pittsburgh was dominated for the first four periods before salvaging some dignity in the final 40 minutes of a 4-3 loss on Sunday.

Not exactly the best way to build momentum heading into the last month of an interminable regular season.

Though the Penguins have lost an NHL-high 413 man games to injury this season, they are trying to avoid excuses.

They steamrolled through the first four months of the season before falling since Letang's third trip to the injured list. They can play well even as Bylsma plays mix-and-match with his lines.

"I think now with the amount of time left in the season it's about rounding our game into form for the postseason," defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "It's something you can't flip a switch overnight. You always want wins, but I'd be OK if we'd play the right way."

Having some familiar faces around would help. Letang wasn't the only player back on the ice Monday.

Forward James Neal (concussion) practiced, as did wingers Chris Kunitz (lower body) and Beau Bennett (wrist).

That's plenty of additional firepower for a team that already has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, though the duo has played with limited effectiveness recently while skating without familiar faces by their side.

Neal and Bennett likely won't be available until later in the week, though Kunitz has a chance to play on Tuesday night when the Penguins host Dallas.

The 34-year-old is tied with Crosby with a team-high 31 goals, and his ability to make something happen in front of the net was missed as Pittsburgh found itself dominated by the Flyers over the weekend.

Still, Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup playoff chances could rest on Letang's health. One of the fittest players in a league of fit players admits he's still stunned by his stroke diagnosis.

Doctors said there was a "0.01 chance" of Letang suffering a stroke, odds so slim Letang refuses to say he's in the clear from it happening again.

Letang would rather not talk about it. He'd rather just focus on skating and getting himself ready for whenever doctors give him the go-ahead to play. He confessed to being tired, but not overwhelmed during a spirited 60 minutes on the ice.

At one point he could sense his teammates taking it easy on him. He ordered them to get back to work.

"Guys were being really careful when we'd go into the corner," Letang said. "I told them they can go as hard as they can. That's the main reason why I'm out there. I want to get to the same place I was before."

A place that makes Letang one of the best at his position when healthy. A Norris Trophy finalist a year ago, Letang has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 games this season, though his general presence is missed as much as his production.

The feeling is mutual. Letang understands the fixation on his return. Trust him, he's just as concerned as everybody else.

"Even the day I had the stroke I asked the doctor when I would be able to play again," Letang said. "It never crossed my mind that I could have a stroke at 26. It could (happen again) because it happened once. Who knows? I'm not going to worry about that."

Flames' Stajan thankful for support after death of son

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) -- Calgary Flames forward Matt Stajan says he's thankful for the support he and his wife Katie have received following the death of their infant son.

Emerson Stajan died March 3 following his birth.

Stajan returned to the Flames on Monday and participated in practice after taking an extended personal leave.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the incredible outpouring of love and support, during this very difficult time," the Stajans said in a statement released by the Flames on Monday.

"All of you have touched our lives with your kindness and compassion, and we truly appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers.

"Our son, Emerson, will forever be in all of our hearts. Thank you for taking the time to think of us, and grieve this unbearable loss with us. It means so much, and we are grateful for all of your support."

Stajan signed a four-year extension with the Flames earlier this year. He has 10 goals and 13 assists in 52 games this season.

Stars' Lehtonen on verge of return from concussion

DALLAS (AP) -- The Dallas Stars have sent goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp back to the Texas Stars of the AHL, a sign that starter Kari Lehtonen is ready to return from a concussion.

Lehtonen was injured in a 4-3 win over Minnesota on March 8 when Erik Haula ran him over and knocked off his helmet. He went through his first full practice Friday.

Tim Thomas made four starts in Lehtonen's place, including a game against Columbus that was postponed when Stars forward Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench in the first period. Thomas was acquired from Florida a day before the trading deadline.

Thomas was pulled from Sunday's 7-2 loss at Winnipeg after allowing his fourth goal on 17 shots just 29 seconds into the second period. Nilstorp finished the game.

Maple Leafs say goalie Bernier has groin strain

TORONTO (AP) -- Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier has a groin strain and is "believed to be day to day," the Maple Leafs said Monday.

The team posted an update on Bernier from coach Randy Carlyle on its Twitter account.

The injury was revealed when Bernier underwent an MRI earlier Monday.

Bernier left Thursday's game against the Los Angeles Kings and was replaced by James Reimer, who stopped every shot he faced to pick up the 3-2 victory.

Bernier has a 25-16-7 record with a 2.64 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and a shutout in his first season with Toronto.

Goalie Enroth not traveling with Sabres on road trip

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth will not join the NHL's worst team on its upcoming five-game road trip after he sustained a lower-body injury in Sunday's 2-0 loss to Montreal.

"He's going to get further evaluation and stay behind," coach Ted Nolan said Monday. "Right now it looks at least a little bit better today than it did yesterday."

After the Sabres flew out of Buffalo on Monday, Enroth posted on his Twitter account a photo of his right leg in an immobilizing device and wrote, "For the next couple weeks ... "

The Sabres (19-41-8) will likely start rookie Nathan Lieuwen on Tuesday in Calgary. Lieuwen stopped all 10 shots he faced in his NHL debut Sunday after being called up from AHL Rochester earlier in the day.

Buffalo also called up goalie Matt Hackett from Rochester on Monday to back up Lieuwen.

Hacket, a former third-round draft pick, played 13 games with the Minnesota from 2011-13 before the Sabres traded for him last year.

Nolan said injured backup Michal Neuvirth will travel with the Sabres, but his status for Tuesday is up in the air. Neuvirth has missed two games with a lower-body injury, but was able to work out on the ice Monday.

"He's a day-to-day-er," Nolan said. "He could wake up (Tuesday) morning fresh as a daisy."

The Sabres have gone through several goalies since trading Ryan Miller to St. Louis on Feb. 28.

In addition to Enroth, Neuvirth and Lieuwen, the Sabres have dressed Jaroslav Halak, who was acquired in the Miller trade and backed up Enroth for one game before being dealt to Washington, and Ryan Vinz, a HarborCenter employee summoned in a pinch as Enroth's backup after Miller's trade was made an hour before the Sabres game against the Sharks.

Neuvirth has started two games since he was acquired in a trade March 5. He made 51 saves Thursday in a 4-2 loss at Carolina, but complained of soreness during warmups Saturday prior to Buffalo's 4-1 loss at the New York Islanders.

"It was a tough game in Carolina," Neuvirth said. "I can't really tell you what happened because I don't even know. I woke up the next morning and I was sore."

Enroth was hurt after being bowled over by Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher in the second period of Sunday's loss.

Driving up the left side on a partial break, Gallagher just got a shot off when he was shoved from behind by Sabres defenseman Jamie McBain and knocked into Enroth.

The goalie was on the ice for a few minutes before he got up and attempted to stretch his right leg while being examined by a trainer. Enroth then skated to the bench and was escorted into the locker room.

Lieuwen, a former sixth-round draft pick, was forced into action for the third time in three nights after playing Friday and Saturday in the minors.

"Usually after three in three, you're a little more tired and sore, but I actually feel really good," Lieuwen said Monday. "I feel like I have the energy and I feel like the adrenaline's starting to ease off a little bit. I can kind of ease off and get comfortable and do my thing."

The Sabres continue to slide, having lost six straight in regulation - their worst streak since losing seven in a row from Dec. 4-19, 2003. They have scored just five goals in the past six games and have a league-low 132 goals on the season.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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