Penguins' Letestu fills role as fill-in


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MONTREAL -- Mark Letestu never heard of Dave Michayluk.

Has no idea who Jock Callander is.

Would not recognize Mike Needham if the guy was wearing a name tag.

Which is probably as it should be.

After all, Letestu -- who made his NHL playoff debut Tuesday in the Penguins' 2-0 victory against Montreal at the Bell Centre -- was 7 years old in the spring of 1992, when those three moved from minor-league obscurity to significant roles in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And ended up with their names on the Cup to show for it.

OK, it's not as if Michayluk, Callander or Needham stole votes from Mario Lemieux when the balloting for Conn Smythe Trophy was conducted that year, but all made meaningful contributions when a run of injuries caused some serious personnel problems for the Penguins.


Today

Game: Penguins at Montreal Canadiens, 7:15 today, Bell Centre.

Series: Penguins, 2-1.

TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).

Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jaroslav Halak for Canadiens.

Penguins: Have won nine of past 12 away playoff games. ... D Brooks Orpik tops playoffs with 40 hits. ... Are 4-1 in these playoffs when D Jay McKee dresses.

Canadiens: Have been outscored, 16-8, while losing three of four home playoff games this spring. ... D Hal Gill has league-high 41 blocked shots. ... Have scored two goals in each of first, second and third periods during this series.

Of note: Penguins have gotten goals from nine players in this series, Montreal three.


Much as Letestu did in Game 3 against the Canadiens, and as the Penguins will expect him to do again if he's in the lineup for Game 4 at 7:15 p.m. today at the Bell Centre.

Letestu filled in for injured center Jordan Staal on the third line with Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy on his wings. He played 12 minutes, 42 seconds, recording two shots and two hits, and never looked the least bit out of place.

"He was good with the puck, good defensively and gave us a solid game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday.

Letestu is part of the team's playoff taxi squad, just as Michayluk, Callander and Needham were 18 years ago, after being summoned from the Penguins' International Hockey League team in Muskegon, Mich.

He played 10 games in the NHL this season, scoring one goal, to go along with 24 goals and 37 assists in 73 games for the Baby Penguins. His current teammates and coaches saw enough of him this winter to have a good idea of what to expect when he dressed for Game 3.

"He did a good job when he came up in the regular season," Cooke said. "He was very reliable, very responsible and he makes good plays with the puck."

That also would be a fair assessment of how he performed Tuesday.

Letestu, a Canadiens fan while growing up in Saskatchewan, admitted to some early nerves -- "It was like playing the first game again," he said -- but they never showed in his play. He looked composed and clear-headed every time he went over the boards.

"Everyone's going to be a little nervous for a game," Kennedy said. "But he handled it well."

And Letestu did it from the earliest minutes of the game, when a bad decision or adrenaline-fueled blunder could have earned him a seat at the distant end of the bench.

"Watching him the first couple of shifts to see where he was at gave me confidence with his play to keep putting him in there and keep putting him [certain] situations," Bylsma said.

Michayluk, Callander and Needham earned the same kind of confidence from coach Scott Bowman in 1992. Their combined stats -- three goals and four assists in 24 man-games -- were relatively modest, but they gave the Penguins quality minutes at a time when they were desperately needed.

And so it is with Letestu, who might well find himself back in street clothes when Staal, or even right winger Bill Guerin, is ready to return. But for as long as he's in the lineup, his Game 3 linemates won't not mind sharing the ice with him.

"I'm used to [Staal]," Cooke said, "but Mark came in and did a good job."

There were some adjustments necessary, of course. Letestu is not as big as Staal, and he's a right-handed shot, while Staal is a lefty, which can affect any number of things.

It was apparent in Game 3, however, that none of those complications were too large to overcome nor should they prevent the line from being effective with Letestu as part of it.

"Those guys are easy to play with," Letestu said. "They're hard workers who know where to be on the ice and they're always talking to me.

"It was a real easy set of guys to play with. Who knows what happens for the next game, but I'd be glad to play with those guys again."


For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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