DENVER (AP) - The eyes of Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire lit up as he talked about the health of Marian Gaborik.
"He's back," Lemaire said. "He's all the way back." Gaborik scored twice - and teammate Mikko Koivu added another two goals - to lead the Wild to a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. Gaborik has been hampered by a groin injury that forced him to miss 34 games earlier in the season. Even though this was his 12th game back, Gaborik hadn't shown his usual explosiveness - until now.
"I am back," Gaborik said with a grin. "I feel good."
That's not exactly what Colorado goalie Peter Budaj wanted to hear. The two Slovakians are good friends and Budaj knows how dangerous Gaborik can be when he's healthy.
"He's a great player," said Budaj, who had 32 saves in the loss. "He's one of the league's leading scorers, and if the injury hadn't happened to him, he would be up there with (Pittsburgh's Sidney) Crosby and those guys.
"He is a great star."
Pierre-Marc Bouchard also scored for Minnesota, and Niklas Backstrom made 27 saves for the Wild.
The Wild took the lead three times through the first two periods only to have the Avalanche counter.
"In the third period, we had our best period, but we just couldn't get one to tie it up," Avalanche coach Joel Quenneville said.
Gaborik's second goal of the game with 4:34 remaining was the winner. Koivu added an empty-net goal in the final minute.
"This was a huge win for us," said Gaborik, who also added an assist.
Although there's still plenty of time left, both teams looked at this as a game with significant playoff ramifications. Minnesota leads the Avalanche by six points for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"You have to win against divisional teams, and we didn't win this one," Avalanche forward Joe Sakic said.
Andrew Brunette scored against Minnesota, his former team, and Brett Clark and Marek Svatos added goals as well. Milan Hejduk had two assists for Colorado.
While the Wild picked up two valuable points from a team right below them in the standings, Lemaire still wasn't completely happy with the performance.
"I didn't like the way we played at times," he said.
But he certainly liked the play of Gaborik. He was on the same line with Pavol Demitra, and the two had two goals and three assists between them.
"The chemistry is good sometimes," Lemaire said. "When the game is important, they bear down and do a heck of a job.
"When they're on their game and they wan to play good, they're good."
Budaj certainly won't argue.
"They know each other really well, they are good buddies, and they are playing solid with each other," Budaj said. "Gaborik is really fast.
"He's very tricky and one of the top forwards in the NHL."
Notes: Colorado D Karlis Skrastins played in his 484th consecutive game. He's two away from tying the NHL record for consecutive games played by a defenceman . . . The Wild recalled G Josh Harding from the AHL's Houston Aeros . . . Budaj earned his first assist of the season on Clark's goal in the second . . . Minnesota C Todd White was activated after missing five games because of a lower-body injury. White flew in for the game Wednesday night and played 10:15, taking one shot . . . The Wild are 3-12-2 at the Pepsi Center.