John Locher / AP
Monday, April 17, 2023 | 2:54 p.m.
Mark Stone had to fight back tears.
His work last summer to get back on the ice following back surgery was excruciating. Having another back procedure in less than a year, the Golden Knights’ captain felt defeated.
But Stone didn’t want to miss the chance to help lead his team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Stone will be in the lineup for Game 1 of Vegas’ first-round series against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday (6:30 p.m., ATTSN-RM).
“Pretty emotional,” Stone said. “I’m excited to be back.”
It’s been a rough two years for Stone. His back issues date back to the 2021 playoffs in the conference final series against Montreal. He held off on surgery and let natural rehabilitation take its course. Setbacks with his back, starting in the second game of last season, caused him to miss 45 games. Stone had a lumbar discectomy in May.
Stone returned in time for training camp and said he felt better than ever. His play dictated that, as well, with 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 43 games.
He played just 3:57 on Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers and was shut down indefinitely. Less than three weeks later, he had his second procedure and was out indefinitely.
Stone took those two weeks to see if he could come back after the All-Star break. This operation was done by Dr. Chad Prusmack in Denver — the same doctor that performed teammate Jack Eichel’s artificial disc replacement surgery.
“Right from the start, I felt good,” Stone said. “Took away a lot of my pain and a lot of my symptoms days after the surgery.”
Stone returned to practice April 10 in a non-contact role. He’s participated in all but one practice since rejoining his teammates, returning to full-contact on Saturday.
He will play on third-line right wing with Chandler Stephenson at center and Michael Amadio at left wing with no expected minutes or shift restrictions.
Stone and Stephenson have played the most together since Stephenson was traded to Vegas from Washington in December 2019. The two All-Star forwards have played 127 regular season games together and have been on the ice for 102 goals scored at 5-on-5 while allowing 61.
Amadio, who scored a career-high 16 goals this season, played 29 games with Stone and Stephenson this season, scoring six goals together.
“We didn’t know how it would play out, to be perfectly honest,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “There were a lot of medical boxes he had to check off before he could get back in the lineup. He’s been able to do that. Credit to him and credit to our medical team for getting him up to speed.”
The Golden Knights sorely missed Stone prior to the All-Star break. They lost seven of eight games after Stone went down, were outscored 26-16 and scored just one power-play goal in 16 opportunities.
Vegas went 22-4-5 in the second half of the season, won its third Pacific Division title in six years, and clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Stone said the biggest observation from watching was the Golden Knights just kept finding ways to win. Eleven of those victories were decided by one goal.
He won’t be asked to be the two-time Selke Trophy finalist he is right away, but the Golden Knights are entering the playoffs with a near-100% healthy lineup.
“We found ways to win a game every night we played,” Stone said. “Had lots of guys go down, lots of guys step up. It’s a resilient group. It bodes well for us going forward.”