MacKinnon, 26, out since Jan. 26 with a concussion and a facial fracture, took his rightful place on Colorado's top line, playing 17:45 of game action on 24 shifts vs. Dallas. The win was Colorado's second straight and the Avalanche have not lost in regulation since Dec. 16. They ended Sunday with 72 points, three ahead of the Florida Panthers, who are second in the overall league standings.
Gabriel Landeskog scored twice, giving the Colorado veteran 22 goals on the season, and Nazem Kadri and Nicolas Aube-Kubel also scored in the win. But in the postgame media availability, the talk centered around a certain former All-Star rejoining his teammates after a scary incident.
"I felt great. Better than I thought I would," MacKinnon said. "Had some good legs. Thought our whole team played really well."
In a battle of elite teams from opposing conferences, MacKinnon ran into Boston Bruins veteran forward Taylor Hall last month, a hit that pushed MacKinnon's stick back into his face. It was an ugly scene in Boston's 4-3 overtime victory, but the hit was not malicious, and more incidental than anything else. Hall was not disciplined by the league.
"Just a really unlucky play," MacKinnon said Sunday.
MacKinnon had surgery on his nose not long after the incident and returned to practice Tuesday. Colorado coach Jared Bednar, after that practice session in Denver, told reporters that the team was targeting Sunday as MacKinnon's return date, so the process went as planned.
The Stars couldn't keep up with the Avalanche's depth and defensive prowess, especially late. The home team was held to just 23 shots on net, and goaltender Darcy Kuemper stopped them all. It was his second shutout of the season.
Bednar called Colorado's third period the team's best defensive period of the season, and it eliminated any chances of late drama during this pre-Super Bowl matinee.
Kadri's goal was his 20th of the season, and with 62 points, he has surpassed his previous season high.
"It's not something I focus on too much," he said. "I just feel like I'm in a zone right now and the best way to continue that is to stay focused."
It helps that MacKinnon, whose speed and vision through the neutral zone, creates more room for his teammates.
"I've got great things to say about this team and the players I'm playing with," Kadri said. "It's been a fun year so far."
The Avalanche increased their franchise-record point streak to 19 games (17-0-2) and hold a game in hand on the Panthers.
Dallas goalie Braden Holtby stopped 26 shots in the loss, and could be in net again Tuesday, when the same two teams play in Colorado in a game postponed from Dec. 31.
MacKinnon would have been front and center at All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas had it not been for the injury. He was in line to be the captain of the Central Division squad, and it would have been his fifth All-Star appearance. The assist Sunday gives him 44 points on the season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.