Josh Manson had been absent for 31 games and was sure to make his presence felt on Wednesday, literally, in his first game back since Dec. 1.

The 31-year-old defenseman delivered a number of big hits, had an assist on Denis Malgin’s second-period goal and four blocked shots. None bigger than the final moments of regulation, where he used his stick to deflect a Minnesota shot out of play at the doorstep in a one-goal game.

Manson was the only rested player for the Avalanche, who after falling to Tampa Bay in the shootout 24 hours prior, bounced back with a crucial 3-2 victory against the Wild on the road in the second leg of a back-to-back.

The triumph puts Colorado (29-19-5, 63 points) two points up on Minnesota (28-21-5, 61 points) for third place in the Central Division with a game in hand.

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Manson settles into top-4

The addition of Manson to the lineup gave Colorado the ability to slot players back into more appropriate positions. Still without top defenseman Cale Makar and No. 6 blueliner Erik Johnson, Manson was able to settle into a reasonable top-4 alongside Devon Toews, Samuel Girard and Bowen Byram. He was paired with his usual partner in Byram.

Manson played 19:45, allowing the other three to shave a combined 7:51 off their pace from the previous night, and distribute the rest among Kurtis MacDermid, Brad Hunt and Andreas Englund.

Forward Ben Meyers was sent down to the AHL following Tuesday’s loss, allowing coach Jared Bednar to dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards.

Georgiev shines in back-to-back appearances

I asked Avalanche netminder Alexandar Georgiev late Tuesday night about the possibility of playing on consecutive nights. The absence of goalie Pavel Francouz couldn’t have been timed more terribly for the Avs, who play three consecutive back-to-backs in an 11-day stretch. To the surprise of nobody, Georgiev welcomed the challenge, once again saying he prefers to play every night. And is more than comfortable with handling starting duties on consecutive nights.

He backed his words against the Wild. Colorado was outshot by a 42-19 margin, forcing Geogiev to make 40 saves — including several massive stops late in regulation after Minnesota pulled within one.

Georgiev has faced 77 shots in back-to-back games, helping the Avs collect 3-of-4 points. He’ll likely be called upon once again Saturday in a matinee against St. Louis on the road. But until then, he’s earned a couple days’ rest.

Well done, Georgi.

MacKinnon’s scoring picks up, right on schedule

MacKinnon had the game-winning goal Wednesday and added an assist. He had six of the Avalanche’s nine shots on goal and a game-high 14 shot attempts. His tally came after Denis Malgin scored his second in as many nights and Andrew Cogliano opened the scoring.

Similar to a season ago, superstar center Nathan MacKinnon has collected most of his points early in the season in the form of assists. Last year he had just three goals in the first 19 games before scoring 29 times in his final 44 appearances — a 54-goal pace in a full season. While the discrepancy isn’t quite as large this time around, it seems like MacKinnon has once again picked up his scoring during the stretch run.

Colorado is 2-1-2 in five games since the All-Star break and has scored just 12 goals in the process. MacKinnon has five of those tallies, along with three assists. The Avs’ top offensive threat has climbed to 18 goals and 44 assists in 62 games. His 1.48 points per game rank third in the NHL, trailing behind the Edmonton duo of Connor McDavid (1.8) and Leon Draisaitl (1.51). He’s also one of just four skaters to have at least an assist per game, joining Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov, San Jose’s Erik Karlsson and McDavid.