Healthy front line boosts Colorado

DENVER (AP) -- Paul Kariya made his long-awaited return to the ice Tuesday night, and it was as if he had never been away.

After a nearly two-month absence because of a sprained right wrist, Kariya scored a second-period goal, helping the Colorado Avalanche get their fourth straight win, 6-0 over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"It was fun to get out there and play some hockey again," Kariya said. "It's been a long time, and it's good that I could help the team.

"We haven't been together since early in the season, so it's great that we're all back, and hopefully the injuries are behind us and we can stay healthy the rest of the year."

Avalanche coach Tony Granato said Kariya "skated extremely well. He had good jump and obviously a lot of energy. He has been sitting around waiting for a long time to get back in the lineup. I think he did a real good job."

David Aebischer had 35 saves to post his ninth career shutout.

Fred Brathwaite made 25 saves on 29 shots in two periods for the Blue Jackets before making way for Marc Denis, who had five saves on seven shots in the third period.

Kariya, out since Nov. 15, scored the last of four Colorado goals in the second period, redirecting a shot by Rob Blake at 14:43 for a 4-0 lead. The goal followed a faceoff in the Columbus end, won by Joe Sakic.

"Joe won a draw clean, and I just went to the net," Kariya said. "Robby made a great shot, and I was lucky enough to tip it."

Kariya had missed the last 21 games and 31 overall with the wrist injury, which he originally sustained Oct. 21.

Sakic also returned after missing one game because of surgery on his broken jaw. Sakic had an assist on Kariya's goal and later scored a goal of his own. It marked the first time since Oct. 21 that Colorado's top six forwards have been healthy.

In a scoreless first period, Columbus failed on a lengthy power play. Colorado had three players in the penalty box at the same time, but the Blue Jackets couldn't convert, not even during two full minutes with a 5-on-3 advantage.

"We had some chances to score in the first on the power play," Blue Jackets interim coach Gerard Gallant said, "and we never capitalized on that. That hurt us big time.

"We were pretty happy coming out of the first 0-0, then all of a sudden they throw 18 scoring chances at you and they get four goals. It was one big mistake after another, and they killed us."

Granato agreed.

"I think the key to the first period was killing the 5-on-3," Granato said. "Our penalty killers did an outstanding job, and then in the second period, we got our legs going, created a lot of offensive chances, and were able to bury a few and take the game over."

Colorado struck quickly in the second period. Blake scored on a power play from the right point just 38 seconds in, and Dan Hinote followed at 2:03 with a shot from the slot after taking Andrei Nikolishin's pass from behind the net.

At 7:04, Karlis Skrastins punched in a loose puck in the crease. Kariya's goal completed the first four-goal period for the Avalanche this season.

Columbus missed another scoring opportunity in the third period -- failing on a four-minute power play on Blake's high-sticking double minor.

Sakic and Peter Worrell then scored just 17 seconds apart. Sakic took a pass from Peter Forsberg and scored from the slot at 15:27. Worrell scored from the right circle at 15:44.

Gallant said he removed Brathwaite after two periods because his groin was bothering him.

Game notes
Kariya wore a flexible graphite brace in his wrist, and Sakic wore a full facial shield. ... Columbus has lost eight of its last 10 games and has the worst road record in the Western Conference (2-13-1-2). ... Colorado is 13-0-1 in the series. ... Blake scored his 100th career power-play goal.