WILMINGTON — From the start of this season until he left the Boston Bruins’  win at Atlanta Dec. 12 with an upper-body injury, forward Petteri Nokelainen had been forming one of the best fourth lines in the league — one that was able to play both a checking role and provide an offensive spark when necessary.

In the Bruins’ loss to Minnesota last night, Nokelainen returned to active duty after a 10-game absence and skated the left wing with Martin St.  Pierre in the middle and  Shawn Thornton on the other side. Nokelainen skated just a shade more than seven minutes but was able to generate some scoring chances along with the rest of his trio and play like his normal physical self.

“I felt good out there. It’s tough, of course, after not playing for a month, your timing and stuff … but I felt good and even my legs felt pretty good,” Nokelainen said after the Bruins’ one-hour practice at Ristuccia Arena.

Nokelainen was back skating days after the injury, so he’s still in top physical condition. And he made sure against the Wild to get right into the action and test out the injury with his first hit.

“I think I gave a hit (on my second shift),” he recalled. “For a split of a second you think about it, like how’s it going to feel? But after that it’s OK, it’s fine.”

Knee and groin injuries have slowed Nokelainen in past seasons. But this year he’s only had to deal with this upper-body problem, which he found a lot easier to come back from.

“I never really had an upper-body injury before, so it’s a lot easier, definitely, when it’s upper body,” he explained.”You’re able to keep yourself in shape. It doesn’t slow you down skating-wise. It was 10 times easier to come back from that than a knee injury, groin injury or something like that. It looks like we’re past that and now we just have to start doing better on the ice.”