SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Detroit Red Wings were both opportunistic and sloppy in their first game out of the Christmas break, building leads and then letting them slip away.
Ultimately though, they left the BB&T Center with a 4-3 victory over the Panthers on Saturday night, benefiting from the return of their captain, a swift power play and a lot of hard work by the penalty killers.
"We found a way to win a game, and we're going to skate a lot better after another day's practice," coach Mike Babcock said. "Everyone had turkey legs out there at the start, but I thought we got going."
Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Zetterberg used power plays to give the Wings a two-goal lead in the first period, leveled by the Panthers during the second period thanks to a man advantage and a mistake. Confidence was restored within 90 seconds of the third period with goals from Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist.
"We needed a push, and we've got good leadership that way," Babcock said. "We responded right away and got going. I thought we had the game well in hand, but kids make mistakes. Got to take care of the puck."
The game was interrupted by a combined 11 penalties, prompting Babcock to wonder whether "there was a new memo out from the league. Each team has three power plays in the first, it's like a nightmare. In the end, we had good specialty teams, and that's a positive for us."
The biggest positive was the return of Zetterberg after an 11-game absence dealing with back pain. He had an immediate impact, taking a pass from Pavel Datsyuk and shooting glove-side on Scott Clemmensen to build on Alfredsson's goal.
"Hank brings so much to this team, on and off the ice," Nyquist said. "When him and Pav are playing, you can really feel the difference."
Jonas Gustavsson came through with 30 saves, improving to 11-3-2. Babcock said Gustavsson had put himself in position "to save our season," as Gustavsson has carried the workload while Jimmy Howard struggled and then succumbed to injury.
The Wings are getting healthier having, over the past week, regained Danny DeKeyser, Nyquist, Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. That has helped spur a 3-1 run. It looked a little dicey Saturday after the second period, which saw Sean Bergenheim score on a power play and Nick Bjugstad burn Tomas Jurco for a turnover at Florida's blue line.
"We made some big mistakes, we gave them two goals just from turnovers," Babcock said. "Kids make mistakes, you learn from those things."
A productive opening to the third period restored the Wings' lead, with Smith scoring his first goal of the year when he fired a puck over the top of Clemmensen's glove, and Nyquist scoring on a rebound right after a face-off. Bergenheim dented that lead with his second of the night, sending in Dylan Olsen's rebound before the 5-minute mark. Gustavsson stopped Bergenheim minutes later after a Tomas Tatar turnover, and made a huge stop on Tomas Kopecky during a mad scramble, as the Wings improved to 12-3-3 on the road.
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