Henrik Zetterberg's return to the lineup gave the Detroit Red Wings a lift. Ilya Kovalchuk's gimpy walk to the dressing room handed the Atlanta Thrashers quite a scare.
The NHL is back from the All-Star break and the health of the league's stars will go a long way in determining who eventually gets into the playoffs.
Zetterberg came back from a back injury in style Wednesday night, scoring a quick goal to help the Red Wings beat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 at home - the fifth straight win for high-flying Detroit, the top team in the league.
The Thrashers dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1 in Atlanta, but that victory came with a price - one that wasn't fully known when Kovalchuk left the game with a knee injury.
``You can't keep him off the ice,'' Thrashers general manager and coach Don Waddell said. ``He was determined to come out and at least test it.
``These kind of injuries, you always wait until the next day and see how the swelling is and just see how he reacts from it.''
In other NHL games, it was Minnesota 5, Anaheim 1; Buffalo 1, Florida 0; Colorado 6, Chicago 3; and Calgary 5, San Jose 4.
Detroit has more than a healthy lead in its run for the top record in the NHL. Atlanta's position is far more precarious and would take a huge hit if leading scorer Kovalchuk is out for any length of time.
The Thrashers are two points behind Carolina for the lead in the weak Southeast Division and might not have enough points to earn a playoff spot if they don't win that title.
They snapped a five-game losing streak.
Kovalchuk was leveled by Pittsburgh's Jarkko Ruutu with a knee-on-knee hit 3:21 into the second period. The collision left Kovalchuk laying on the ice in obvious pain in front of Atlanta's bench before he limped to the locker room. He came back for one shift, but left again and didn't return.
He scored his team-leading 38th goal, but it was his knee that was the topic of conversation. Ruutu was ejected from the game after also being forced to fight Steve McCarthy, who rushed to Kovalchuk's defense.
``I meant to finish my check,'' Ruutu said. ``He ducked away and I barely hit him. I didn't change direction. I just went for a hit.
``I got five minutes for fighting and I didn't even throw a punch. I had my gloves on the whole time.''
Kovalchuk played in the NHL All-Star game in his home arena on Sunday. Zetterberg, elected as a starter to the Western Conference team, had to sit out due to back spasms that also cost him the two games before the break.
He scored his 29th goal just 3:54 into Wednesday night's win.
Nicklas Lidstrom's goal with 7:28 left completed the Red Wings' comeback that also included a goal from Tomas Holmstrom, three assists from Pavel Datsyuk, and 32 saves from Chris Osgood.
Martin Hanzal and Ed Jovanovski scored for Phoenix, which led 2-1 after two periods. It was the fourth time this season Phoenix failed to hold that advantage against the Red Wings.
``If you're them, you probably think you should have had a better fate,'' Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
Atlanta's Kari Lehtonen stopped 29 shots, losing his shutout bid when Ryan Whitney scored for Pittsburgh with 8:42 left. Kovalchuk and Bobby Holik scored first-period goals and Eric Perrin and Jim Slater added tallies in the third to give the Thrashers a 4-0 lead.
Wild 5, Ducks 1
At St. Paul, Minn., Brian Rolston, Marian Gaborik and Mikko Koivu scored less than two minutes apart in the second period.
Pierre-Marc Bouchard and James Sheppard also scored for Minnesota, which won its third in four games and sixth in nine.
Anaheim, which got another shaky performance from goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, lost its fourth straight after a six-game winning streak. The Ducks, whose lone goal came from Corey Perry, have scored five goals during the skid.
Sabres 1, Panthers 0
At Sunrise, Fla., Thomas Vanek scored a power-play goal in the first minute of the second period and Ryan Miller stopped 32 shots for Buffalo in his second shutout of the season.
It was the Sabres' second victory in two nights after they went into the All-Star break having lost 12 of 14.
Florida fell for the 11th time in 15 home games despite getting 40 saves from All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun.
Avalanche 6, Blackhawks 3
At Denver, Marek Svatos scored twice and scoring-challenged Colorado broke through against Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin.
The injury-riddled Avalanche scored three times in the first period off Khabibulin, who hasn't won since Dec. 26 against Nashville.
Milan Hejduk started it off with a wrist shot from the left circle that he flipped over Khabibulin's glove. Svatos added a goal two minutes later, and with 90 seconds left in the first period, Brad Richardson sent a one-timer between Khabibulin's pads for his second goal of the season and first since Nov. 24.
That gave the Avalanche their most goals in a period since they scored five in the second against St. Louis on Dec. 9. The six goals represented their highest output since that night when they scored nine.
Flames 5, Sharks 4
At Calgary, Alberta, Owen Nolan's hat trick lifted the host Flames to their fourth straight victory.
Nolan capped off his first three-goal game since Oct. 4, 1999, at 10:45 of the third period. It gave the Flames a 5-2 lead and completed Nolan's 11th NHL hat trick.
San Jose got goals from Patrick Rissmiller and Jonathan Cheechoo 59 seconds apart in the final two minutes, but they couldn't get the tying goal past Miikka Kiprusoff.
Kiprusoff finished with 27 saves. Wayne Primeau and Dion Phaneuf also scored for Calgary.

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