Chris Pronger was excited to be back on the ice -- until he had to try to stop Brett Hull.

Hull's 33rd career hat trick lifted the Detroit Red Wings to a 6-2 win over the Blues in St. Louis yesterday, spoiling Pronger's return to the lineup.

Pronger scored in his first game back for St. Louis. The 2000 NHL most valuable player and Norris Trophy winner missed the first 77 games of the season while recovering from knee and wrist surgery.

"It's always nice to be back on the ice and playing, but I realized I've got a lot of work I need to do," Pronger said. "As a team we've got a lot of work we need to do and we need to continue to get better."

Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov also scored for the Red Wings, who have won 19 of 22 (19-2-0-1). Pronger was on the ice for five Detroit goals.

"This was a big game for both teams and Brett carried us," Detroit defenseman Chris Chelios said of Hull, who did not speak with reporters after the game. "We played well offensively, especially Brett, and were able to limit them on offense."

The teams combined for 219 penalty minutes in the third period. There were two prolonged fights involving all the players on the ice in the game's final two minutes. A chair wound up near center ice with 35 seconds to go, but it was not apparent who threw it and none of the players or coaches would say.

* RANGERS 3, BRUINS 1: Alexei Kovalev snapped a nine-game scoreless drought with two goals as New York improved its slim playoff hopes with a win in Boston.

The Rangers, who spoiled Boston's bid to clinch a playoff berth, are four points behind the New York Islanders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers have four games left, including one against the Islanders on Long Island on Tuesday. The Islanders have five games remaining.

Kovalev, acquired from Pittsburgh on Feb. 10, scored his first goal since March 1 and recorded his first multigoal game since the trade.

* FLYERS 3, PENGUINS 0: Jeremy Roenick had a goal and an assist and Roman Cechmanek recorded his fifth shutout of the season as host moved within two points of Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey.

Cechmanek, who made 20 saves, earned his 19th career shutout to pass Ron Hextall and move into second place on the Flyers' career list behind only Bernie Parent.

Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux sat out his second straight game because of back spasms.

* AVALANCHE 6, COYOTES 1: In Denver, Greg de Vries and Riku Hahl each scored two goals for Colorado.

The Avalanche took control in the first period, scoring three goals in just 2 minutes 15 seconds to erase a 1-0 deficit. Peter Forsberg had two assists, giving him 99 points on the season -- second best in the NHL behind Vancouver's Markus Naslund.

Patrick Roy had 27 saves for the Avalanche, 12-0-2-1 in its last 15 home games.

* SABRES 3, HURRICANES 1: In Raleigh, N.C., Miroslav Satan, Maxim Afinogenov and Daniel Briere scored power-play goals in a 71/2-minute covering the end of the first period and the start of the second span to spark Buffalo.

The Sabres won their season-best fourth in a row, while Carolina is winless in seven (0-5-2) to remain in last place in the NHL with 61 points.

* SENATORS 3, CANADIENS 1: Patrick Lalime made 30 saves for his career-high 37th win and Ottawa eliminated host Montreal from playoff contention.

Brian Pothier, Bryan Smolinski and Jason Spezza scored for the Senators, who lead the league with 107 points.

Saku Koivu scored for Montreal, which will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, the worst stretch in the franchise's 86 years in the NHL.

* PANTHERS 1, LIGHTNING 1: Martin St. Louis scored with 36 seconds left in the third period to give host Tampa Bay a tie and a two-point lead over Washington in the race to win the Southeast Division.

St. Louis redirected a shot by Brad Richards after Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was pulled for an extra skater. Tampa Bay is 6-0-5 in its last 11 games.

* CANUCKS 5, KINGS 1: Henrik Sedin and Markus Naslund scored second-period goals to lead Vancouver to an easy road win.

The Canucks snapped their 14-game winless streak (0-9-3-1) in Los Angeles, dating to April 6, 1996. Alexander Auld made 31 saves to help Vancouver maintain a four-point lead over Colorado in the Northwest Division race.

* BLUE JACKETS 6, FLAMES 4: Geoff Sanderson scored four goals -- three in a row in the second period -- and added an assist to power visiting Columbus.

Andrew Cassels had a goal and four assists and Matt Davidson also scored for the Blue Jackets, who won for just the second time in 11 road games.

The Flames scored three times in the opening five minutes of the second to take a 3-2 lead, but Sanderson responded with his 28th, 29th and 30th goals in a span of 9:43, each goal set up by Cassels.

* THRASHERS 3, PREDATORS 2: Dany Heatley and Marc Savard each had a goal and an assist to propel as visiting Atlanta extended Nashville's franchise-worst winless streak to 11 games.

* STARS 4, SHARKS 3: In San Jose, Brenden Morrow tipped in the game-winner on the power play with 2:02 left in the third period to lift Dallas into the top spot in the West.

Linesman Ray Scapinello picks hats off the ice after Red Wings' Brett Hull netted his third goal of the game.