Sunrise, Fla. — When it was all over one could hear the exuberance flowing from the Red Wings dressing room, even before they opened the doors.
The Red Wings did a lot of what they have desired for long stretches of the season Saturday, defeating the Panthers before what reportedly was the largest crowd in their history, 5-3.
The Wings got off to a good start. They scored on the power play. They generated a lot of offense by getting underneath the opponents defense and to the net.
They responded aggressively to misfortune, especially by scoring four unanswered goals to erase the 3-1 deficit they faced at 12:48 of the second period against the Atlantic Division leading Panthers.
Perhaps most importantly, the Wings put two more points between them and the Flyers for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — although Philadelphia retains the advantage of two games in hand.
“I thought we did a good job for 60 minutes that was our biggest focus,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “You know we’ve talked about it a lot: Making sure we play 60 minutes and making sure we’re resilient.
“When you get scored on, just keep going and your next shift, being real good. And I thought we did a good job of that.
“The one thing with the offense was we got to the net, and we’re going to continue to get to the net. To be successful here, that’s the only way you’re going to score in this league, and we found a way to do it.”
They got two goals from Pavel Datsyuk (15, 16), and one each from Tomas Tatar (20), Dylan Larkin (21) and Luke Glendening (6).
Larkin added an assist, his 22nd of the season.
And playing in his first game after returning to the lineup just one week after spraining his right knee, Niklas Kronwall got two assists, for 19 on the season.
“We all know it’s a big game,” Henrik Zetterberg said in the raucous winners' locker room. “So every game now here going in is going to be huge for us.
“And, you know, tonight, obviously Kronner was back. So I think a little extra celebration here was for him.
“But we have had some tough games in this building the last couple of years, and it was nice to finally get one and get the two points.”
A huge moment came when Datsyuk scored on the power play, through a well-set screen at the top of the crease by Justin Abdelkader with 11 seconds left in the second period.
It brought the Wings back to 3-2, and seemed like a dagger slammed into the Panthers late in the period.
The Red Wings said they brought considerable confidence into the second intermission, certain the Panthers could be had.
“Yeah, that late power-play goal was huge,” Larkin said. “Coming back in the second intermission we felt pretty confident, even though they had a two-minute power play to start the (third) period.
“We did a good job of battling and came out flying in the third.”
An encouraging sign for the balance of the season, and a drive to what the Wings hope will be a 25th consecutive playoff spot, was that Tatar and Datsyuk both scored with the man advantage.
Jimmy Howard, playing in place of Petr Mrazek (illness), won his second consecutive game.
Wings’ giveaways led directly to two of the three Panthers’ goals. But Howard performed one of the classically beneficial goalie’s feats, holding his team in the contest until it could rebound.
He made a few outstanding saves throughout the game when a fourth goal might have been catastrophic.
“We need to continue to build,” Howard said. “It’s another step in the right direction.
“We were doing a lot of great things out there (while trailing),” he said. “We never lost focus. We never got down on ourselves.
“We kept pushing, and we were able to find two goals here tonight.”
The Red Wings got off to their much-desired good start, but a miscue cost them the first goal.
After a turnover on the sideboards in his own zone by Jonathan Ericsson, Nick Bjugstad scored his 13th of the season with an sasist from former Wings forward Jiri Hudler, at 10:49 of the first period.
It was the 27th assist for Hudler, who was acquired from the Flames at the trade deadline.
The Wings responded at 18:25, scoring not only on the power play, but immediately after the opening faceoff of the power play. It conjured memories of the explosive Red Wings of days gone by, as Datsyuk won the draw, Mike Green controlled the puck, moved it to Brad Richards at the opposite point, and Richards’ shot was deflected in by Tatar for his 20th of the season.
The Panthers scored the next two goals, both in the second period. One came after an uncharacteristic giveaway by Datsyuk and the other on a dirty goal from Teddy Purcell from behind the Wings’ net. It appeared to go off Green’s stick, then off Howard’s back, and in.
Then, at 19:49 of the period, Datsyuk scored on the power play, through Abdelkader’s screen.
At 3:52 of third period the Red Wings got another goal immediately after a faceoff when Ericsson’s hard shot from the blue line led to a huge rebound off Luongo. Larkin collected the puck, took a stride backwards, and looked at a 90-degree angle to his left to check Gustav Nyquist’s positioning, before letting a powerful wrist shot rip, beating Luongo just inside the near post.
About five minutes later, after much hard work in the Panthers zone by Zetterberg, Kronwall and others, the Wings got their third straight goal to put them up 4-3. Luke Glendening managed to get his raised stick on a shot from Larkin near the left sideboards for his sixth of the season.
With 37 seconds left, Datsyuk hit the empty net, with Luongo out for the extra attacker.