Mark Stone assimilated quickly with the Golden Knights after he was acquired at the trade deadline in February, learning his new teammates and fitting in with the culture that’s been established.
But his real initiation into the group came during the first two games of the Western Conference quarterfinals.
“He’s an all-time Golden Knight now,” left wing Jonathan Marchessault said. “He’s really part of us, and he’s definitely joined the club in the right way.”
From his fiery goal celebrations to his willingness to stand up for teammates, Stone is rapidly becoming the Knights’ emotional leader.
“It’s a big part of it. This time of the year, that’s what you need,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He’s a competitive guy. He finishes some hard checks. He played the game real hard. We heard a lot of good things before you got him and you knew him as a player, but playoffs are a different level, and he really showed up big-time (Friday) night.”
In addition to the scoring and 200-foot game that should put Stone in contention for the Selke Award, the former alternate captain in Ottawa brought an intensity to the Knights that helped fill a void created by James Neal’s offseason departure.
Stone was indoctrinated into the rivalry against San Jose during the final two weeks of March, as the teams met twice in a 12-day span. And he’s carried over that hostility into the postseason.
“He’s goofy off the ice, and then he just gets so fired up for the game in the locker room,” defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “I love the way he’s playing, and he’s a guy who’s been there in the conference finals before. You add that type of experience to your group and you see how excited he gets.”
Stone, who did not participate in the Knights’ optional skate Saturday and was not available to the media, scored both goals for the Knights in their 5-2 loss to open the series and was in the eye of the storm throughout Game 2.
He tangled with San Jose forward Timo Meier during the first period of Game 2 and punctuated his second-period goal with a forceful fist pump.
When San Jose’s Evander Kane bumped Stone after the final horn Friday, three Knights rushed to his aid. Afterward, a charged-up Stone led the Knights’ handshake line, which included plenty of adults-only language.
“I think he just wants to win,” center Paul Stastny said. “That’s something you’ve always seen out of him when he plays, whether it was regular season or playoffs, and whether it was here or in Ottawa.
“It’s not about him for him. It’s all about the team and whatever he can do to help the team out, whether it’s on the scoreboard, whether it’s emotionally on the bench or whether it’s being physical on the ice.”
Stone, who signed an eight-year, $76 million extension last month, leads the Knights in goals during the postseason with three.
Left wing Max Pacioretty has a team-high four points (one goal, three assists), and Stastny notched three assists in the first two games as the Knights’ high-priced line of newcomers has carried the offense.
“He’s been our best player in the playoffs so far,” Marchessault said of Stone. “He’s been great, and he gets fired up. It definitely shows, and he’s leading well out there. He’s a great example for everyone out there to be emotional and be ready for the game.”
Who: Sharks vs. Golden Knights
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: T-Mobile Arena
TV: AT&T SportsNet (Cox 313/1313, DirecTV 684, CenturyLink 760/1760, U-verse 757/1757, Dish 414/5414)
Radio: KRLV (98.9 FM, 1340 AM); ESPN Deportes (1460 AM)
Line: Knights -155; total 6½
Game 1: Sharks 5, Golden Knights 2
Game 2: Golden Knights 5, Sharks 3
Sunday: at Golden Knights, 7 p.m., AT&T SportsNet
Tuesday: at Golden Knights, 7:30 p.m., AT&T SportsNet
Thursday: at San Jose, TBA, AT&T SportsNet
x-April 21: at Golden Knights, TBA, AT&T SportsNet
x-April 23: at San Jose, TBA, AT&T SportsNet
1. Swing game. When the Golden Knights and Sharks met in the postseason last season, the teams split the first two games before the road team won Game 3 and eventually the series. When a best-of-seven series is tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 goes on to take the series 67.9 percent of the time.
2. Unintended consequences. The Knights’ special teams are outscoring San Jose’s 4-2, but one drawback to all the penalties is the fourth line hasn’t been able to get in the flow of games. Ryan Reaves (5:51) and William Carrier (5:45) saw limited ice time in Game 2, and they’ve yet to impact the series.
3. Fragile state. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer is sticking with goaltender Martin Jones, who was pulled for the third time in the postseason against the Knights and fifth time overall. Jones has an .848 save percentage in two games, and if he struggles again, it could threaten to sink San Jose in the series.