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Detroit – Considering there was speculation Anthony Mantha could miss the rest of the season, just seeing Mantha on the ice the last couple days has been a revelation.

And the fact Mantha now appears capable of returning with several weeks left in the season is good news for Mantha and the Red Wings.

“It feels good mentally, and hopefully for the physical part, it comes along and in a couple weeks I could be back playing again,” Mantha said. “Just being around here and the boys, practicing with them, it really does feel good.”

What had been turning into a career-best season for Mantha came to a sudden halt Dec. 21 in Toronto. Mantha saw Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin hit Madison Bowey with what Mantha felt was a cheap shot to the upper body.

Mantha took exception and grabbed Muzzin, who slammed Mantha hard to the ice with some analysts felt was a slew foot.

Mantha’s head hit the ice hard, but he insists there was no concussion. But Mantha did suffer a mid-body injury that has forced him out of the lineup since.

Was it a dirty play on Muzzin’s part?  The NHL didn’t suspend Muzzin but Mantha has another opinion.

“It was a dirty play,” Mantha said. “The league probably didn’t look at it the same way as I did. But I’m on the receiving end of it; maybe I’m biased a little bit more. But it was a clear slew foot.

“But like I said, the league didn’t see it that way, so take some time off and be ready to go in a couple of weeks and we’ll see what happens.”

The Wings and Maple Leafs meet once more this season, on April 2 in Toronto in the next-to-last game on the schedule.

Ironically, Muzzin broke his foot the next game he played and just returned to the Leafs lineup last week after missing a month.

“I kind of believe in karma, and that’s worse than being suspended for one game, right?” Mantha said.

This was the third time Mantha has gotten hurt while in a fight protecting a teammate.  Coach Jeff Blashill wants teammates to look after each other and doesn’t want to totally discourage Mantha from that part of the game.

Still, Blashill has urged a balance, and being more judicious about the fighting.

Mantha understands that but isn’t going to completely stop protecting teammates.

“I’m always going to be looking after people, it’s part of the game,” Mantha said. “It’s what needs to happen because if we stop looking after each other, that’s when teams take advantage of us and we don’t want to be a team that gets stepped on.

“This dressing room is like your family, right? You want to protect each other and if something happens to one guy, everyone’s got his back. So we need that mentality, especially when things aren’t going our way and we have to find a bond that we trust.

“Moving forward that’ll be our team identity.”

This injury came just one week after Mantha had missed eight games with a lower-body injury. It’s been that sort of season for Mantha, who still ranks fifth on the team in points (24), and whose 12 goals are tied for third on the team, all in just 29 games.

“It’s not fun,” said Mantha of missing so many games. “It’s hard mentally to miss so many games, be away from the team, not traveling with them. Like I said, it’s like a family.”

Timely return

Andreas Athanasiou returned to the lineup Monday after missing 13 games with a lower-body injury.

For Athanasiou, the timing of the eight-day All-Star break and bye week for the Wings helped him heal and get in the lineup.

“At the start I had to let the bone heal, so it was rest and do a little bit of treatment,” Athanasiou said. “Then I started skating and once it started feeling good, and I felt I had my step back, I felt comfortable enough playing.”

The Wings missed Athanasiou’s explosiveness and speed, an ingredient Blashill enjoyed adding, especially with Filip Zadina (lower body now out for at least two weeks.

“He’s a guy who can self-create,” Blashill said of Athanasiou. “There’s not a ton of guys in the league that can self-create. You have to be extremely fast and make plays at high speed, and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can do those things.

“The thing with Double-A is he skates so well that it’s a little bit easier for somebody that’s as athletic and fast as he is.”

Back on the ice

Frans Nielsen (upper body) skated Monday but missed his third game in the last four.

“I feel better every day,” Nielsen said. “It’s still just day to day; see how I feel every day when I wake up.  It’s just a little setback (suffered Friday in New York).”

After Monday the Wings' next game is Thursday in Buffalo.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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