NEW YORK -- Stephen Johns set up at the right point and the puck came back to him, a pass from Jason Dickinson.
Like clockwork, instinct, as though the Dallas Stars defenseman had been doing it daily in the NHL for the past several years, Johns ripped his one-timer, hard and heavy like it's supposed to be, from 61 feet away.
Goal. Celebration. Emotion.
Oh man the emotion.
"I waited a long time and thought a lot about possibly never doing that again," Johns said.
Johns' goal in the second period of a 5-3 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday was his first in nearly two years, since Feb. 16, 2018. It came in his fourth game back after missing 133 in a row with post-traumatic headaches.
He also had an assist and eight hits in 13:53 of ice time.
"You know what makes it pretty special, my parents were here tonight," Johns said of his father Ray and mother Noreen.
They were sitting in section 104. Their 27-year-old son found them after scoring, pointing in their direction.
"Throughout this whole process, it wasn't just me going through [a tough time]," Johns said. "As parents they want to help, and for them to be here and see that, I know my dad was for sure crying. I'm pretty excited to go see them and give them both a big hug."
Video: DAL@NYR: Johns hammers puck home from blue line
He did after the game, running up to the stands after doing his media obligations, a family moment they all weren't sure would happen again because of headaches that derailed his NHL career for 22 months.
Johns was out of the Stars lineup from March 31, 2018 until returning on Jan. 18, bridged briefly by a two-game conditioning stint with Texas of the American Hockey League, Jan. 11 (when he had a goal and three assists) and Jan. 15.
"I know [my parents] were hurting the whole time I was too," Johns said, fighting back tears. "The only thing going through my mind was going through the line and then finding them in the stands, pointing at them."
Johns' teammates, especially those who have been with the Stars the past few years, who watched him battle to come back, were ecstatic for him.
"There's been some dark times, and to see him out there skating by himself and persevering to get back in the lineup, and not only get back in the lineup, but he's been outstanding for us," Stars forward Blake Comeau said. "It's hard to believe he's missed as much time as he has. You can see it in his mood. He's happy to be back with the guys, happy to be around the guys in the locker room. Really happy to see him get that goal. Well deserved."
Dallas center Joe Pavelski, who signed a three-year contract with the Stars on July 1, 2019, was beaming when asked what Johns' goal meant to the team.
"It was awesome. It is awesome," Pavelski said. "It's just good to see him. It's going to take a little bit, but you can see his game rounding out."
But Johns said he just kept thinking about his parents.
"My parents are traveling parents; they go to as many games as they possibly can," he said. "My senior year in college (University of Notre Dame), they didn't miss a game. I think that was more important than anything tonight, them being here and seeing their son playing again, because for a while there we didn't really know what was going on. Couldn't be happier for them."