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Graney: Mark Stone returns, makes presence felt for Knights

Updated April 23, 2024 - 8:00 am

DALLAS — He wasn’t sure it would work out. That if he would be healthy enough to give it a go. That the stars would align.

Not the Dallas Stars, mind you. The other kind.

Mark Stone made it back to the Golden Knights’ lineup for Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against Dallas, and the result was more than a successful one on the scoreboard.

Home-ice advantage has been grabbed by the Knights in this best-of-seven, the result a 4-3 victory Monday night before 18,532 at American Airlines Center.

It’s not as if Stone waited to make an impact.

On his first shift from returning from a Grade 3 lacerated spleen, Stone tipped in a shot from Noah Hanifin for a power-play goal and 1-0 lead 1:23 into the game.

Yeah. He was back, all right.

A consistent crowd

The boos had begun right before his score. Every time he came near the puck. Every time he was in the same area code of it.

At least we know what Dallas fans think of long-term injured reserve and Stone’s time on it before being deemed well enough to return for the playoffs.

They kept it up throughout the game. The boos. At least we know they’re consistent.

Two months. That’s how long Stone missed. It’s the third straight season he has been out a considerable amount of time. The other two instances were after back surgeries.

But this was different. This wasn’t your typical shoulder or knee injury. This was a mystery from the outset when talking recovery time. Some told Stone it could take eight weeks. Others said six months.

Say this for him: Nobody cares more about being healthy and competing than the team’s captain. Nobody wants it more, loves playing the game more.

He has been limited to 99 regular-season games over the past two years.

He also didn’t hold back on this latest setback.

“It sucked,” he said. “The first couple of weeks were real tough. You can’t do anything physically. You’re just kind of sitting around waiting for it to heal. It’s hard because you feel better relatively quickly, but then you look at the scans and you’re nowhere near close to healthy. That was the toughest part.

“You try to put a smile on your face when you come to the rink, but rehabbing sucks. Who likes rehab? It’s the worst part of the game.”

Think about it: The Knights scored four goals on just 15 shots. They’ll be oh-so-tough to beat if that continues.

Stone played on the same line with Tomas Hertl for the first time, and it’s obvious it will take some doing to create great chemistry, even between two terrific talents. It wasn’t a great night for much of anyone five-on-five. Stone actually had a turnover at the blue line that led to a Dallas goal.

The Stars pretty much spent the second period controlling the puck for 20 minutes. Good news for the Knights: One of their three shots in the period was a goal by Brayden McNabb. Proved to be the decisive goal.

Back to grind

More important, perhaps, is that Stone is back in the playoffs. Back to the grind. Back to feeling healthy.

“There are going to be ups and downs in a playoff series,” he said. “You can’t just flush a game. You have to learn from mistakes and learn from the good stuff. At the end of the day, regroup, recover and get ready for the next one.

“We have a lot of guys who have been here and in these situations. We just have to go out and produce.”

They did just enough of it Monday to win a game and grab home-ice advantage.

They did so with their captain pitching in.

Nobody cares more about being healthy and competing. Nobody wants it more.

Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.

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