Red Wings Avalanche Hockey

Detroit Red Wings center Joe Veleno, left, battles for control of the puck with Colorado Avalanche right wing Valeri Nichushkin in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A Colorado Avalanche team decimated by injuries received a huge lift in a Monday matinee at Ball Arena.

Forward Valeri Nichushkin — after missing the past three weeks with “complications” to his surgically repaired ankle — returned to play in a 6-3 victory over the visiting Detroit Red Wings. Nichushkin skated on the team’s second line and notched a first-period assist.

How much did the Avs miss their big Russian winger?

“There’s only one Val in the league,” forward Nathan MacKinnon said.

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Nichushkin, who declined to speak with reporters postgame, had a challenging first half of the season. He signed an eight-year, $49 million contract last summer and dominated to begin the year — seven goals in seven games — before ankle surgery in November.

Nichushkin returned briefly in December, with eight games played (zero goals and four assists), when ankle “complications” led Colorado to shut him back down. Nichushkin sat for another nine games before making yet another comeback against Detroit.

Nichushkin recorded 18:54 of ice time in Saturday’s win with four shots on net and one block. He assisted on Makar’s first goal and shielded opposing goalie Ville Husso’s sightline on Makar’s second goal. Bednar called Nichushkin’s presence “huge” despite it being his first game back.

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“He’s missed a significant amount of time, but I still thought he was really good for us tonight,” Bednar continued. “When you’re adding top-six forwards back into your lineup and you can keep slotting guys, it just gives you more depth and more lines going.”

Forward Evan Rodrigues added: “It feels like he completed our lineup. It’s hard to say what he means. But he’s such a presence for us.”

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Sean Behrens’ return from World Junior Championships leading to wins for Denver hockey

GAMER BOX

Avalanche 6, Red Wings 3

What happened: The Avs, seemingly far removed from their losing streak, dominated a traditional rival for consecutive home wins. Colorado has now beaten Detroit in nine straight meetings.

What went right: The Avalanche established a 5-0 lead; marking 12 unanswered goals over a stretch of five consecutive periods. It was a multi-point night for five players, including two goals each for Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. The Avs once struggling power play scored twice (Makar and J.T. Compher). Colorado’s penalty kill went 2/2.

What went wrong: The Red Wings scored three late goals to turn a blowout into a more respectable defeat.

Between the pipes: Pavel Francouz, in his third straight Avalanche start, made 26-of-29 saves. Detroit netminder Ville Husso stopped 17 of Colorado’s 22 shots on goal. Detroit's backup goaltender made 4-of-5 saves.

Injury updates: Forward Valeri Nichushkin (ankle) returned to play Monday against Detroit. Forward Darren Helm (lower body) is being evaluated and risks missing the rest of the season.

What’s next: The Avalanche (22-17-3) travel to play the Calgary Flames, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Altitude TV) at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

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