Mark Stone Game 1 42224

DALLAS -- Mark Stone scored on the power play 1:23 into his first game back, and Dallas Stars fans booed him throughout the Vegas Golden Knights’ 4-3 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at American Airlines Center on Monday.

They booed him after the first period, when he did a TV interview on the ice in the dark, a spotlight shining on him. They booed him every time he touched the puck.

“I don’t know,” the forward said. “I guess they don’t like me.”

It isn’t hard to figure out why.

Stone sustained a lacerated spleen in a 5-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Feb. 20. The Golden Knights put him on long-term injured reserve. The salary-cap space helped them acquire defenseman Noah Hanifin and forwards Anthony Mantha and Tomas Hertl before the 2024 NHL Trade Deadline on March 8.

After missing the last 26 games of the regular season, Stone returned just in time for the opener of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and scored on his first shot, a deflection. Not only that, Hanifin assisted on the goal, and then Hanifin assisted on another power-play goal, this one by Hertl.

Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault smiled when asked about the booing.

“I loved it,” Marchessault said. “I mean, [I couldn’t] be more happy for any guy than him. He’s been going through a lot of adversity in the past two years, and the fact that he comes back and gets big goals like that, I mean, it’s unbelievable to have a guy like that on your team and especially as your leader, so we’re happy to have him on our side.”

VGK@DAL R1, Gm1: Stone opens scoring with tip-in PPG in 1st

Stone had back surgery and missed the last 39 games of the regular season in 2022-23, then returned for the opener of the playoffs and had 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in 22 games, third on the Golden Knights. Vegas won the Stanley Cup.

It raised eyebrows when he got hurt this season and the Golden Knights took advantage of the cap space, even though Stone was leading them with 53 points (16 goals, 37 assists) in 56 games at the time of the injury and they slipped from second in the Pacific Division to the second wild card in the West.

Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon addressed the issue in a press conference Saturday. He called the injury a “freak accident” and a Grade 3 laceration of the spleen.

Holding his hand up, McCrimmon said the doctor told him there was a stack of literature that high saying the recovery would be three to six months. Holding his hand down, he said the doctor told him there was a stack of literature that high saying it could take less than that.

McCrimmon said Stone was monitored with ultrasounds and CT scans. He was cleared to skate without contact April 12 and cleared for contact Saturday.

“There’s been a lot of speculation, a lot of insinuation, about his injury,” McCrimmon said. “The NHL is 100-percent involved in any of these LTIR situations involving teams. Their chief medical director speaks to the surgeon, speaks to our medical team, speaks to our athletic therapist, has access to every document that is filed, every diagnostic test that is given. They have access to all that information. That’s what keeps the system legitimate.”

Stone is key to the Golden Knights’ repeat bid. He’s their captain and emotional leader, and he plays in all situations. When he scored Monday, he pumped his fist and let out a primal scream.

“It was awesome,” Hanifin said. “He’s our captain, and it’s great to see him back. He was super excited. He has so much passion for the game. He brings so much energy, and just to see him score there early was awesome for the group.”

Stone wasn’t perfect. He got his pocket picked by Stars forward Logan Stankoven, who fed teammate Jason Robertson for a goal at 18:29 of the first period. He was minus-2. But consider the situation.

“Obviously, I haven’t played a lot of hockey in the last two months,” he said. “I’ve been on the ice, but games are different. I’m not just jumping into a preseason game in September. I’m playing a playoff game in April, so you’ve got to be ready.”

In the end, he played 17:09, including 1:00 on the power play and 1:39 on the penalty kill. He was out at the end of the game, protecting the lead, and came within inches of scoring into an empty net.

Imagine the boos had he scored to ice it.

“I was nervous,” he said. “I think I probably would be a little nervous if I played all 82 games, right? It’s the playoffs. This is what you play for. Once the game gets going, you realize why you play. It’s so much fun to be out there. With five minutes left, the crowd gets into it. Those are fun experiences.”

Even as the villain. Maybe, on a night like this, especially as the villain.

Related Content