DETROIT -- Florida Panthers coach Peter Horachek told his players before embarking on this critical four-game road trip leading into the final seven games before the Olympic break to view it as a seven-game playoff series.
That's exactly how it looked in the final, frantic 25-plus minutes of Sunday evening's remarkable come-from-behind 5-4 shootout victory over Hockeytown's Red Wings in venerable Joe Louis Arena to give the Panthers their third straight road win in the past week.
"It was a character win, coming back from 4-2, we stayed positive," said rookie center Nick Bjugstad, who tallied the lone shootout goal for his first game-deciding goal to go with three-game winning goals this season. "Hard work is paying off."
With one more meeting in Sunrise, Fla., the Panthers have won 3 of 4 from the Red Wings -- a team they're hoping to run down in the Eastern Conference for a wild-card berth -- and have a chance to clinch the season series for the first time in franchise history where they've met more than once in a season.
"That's a character win. It's ugly, but we're collecting points," Horachek said. "We're finding ways to win and building resilience. ... We didn't handle a lot of things very well, but we kept pushing forward."
The Red Wings scored three goals in the second period to take a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes. Feisty forward Jesse Winchester started the first two-goal comeback with a greasy goal in the blue paint at 9:12.
"That's a 65-minute effort. I think we're pretty gassed," Winchester said. "To come out of it on the positive side of that one feels really good."
When Red Wings winger Tomas Tartar put in a rooftop dagger with 6:27 remaining, it looked like the Panthers would repeat Friday's short-lived 3-2 comeback loss to the Avalanche in which they scored twice in the third period.
But the Panthers bombarded backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson (15-5 shot edge in 3rd) until 55 seconds later, Tomas Fleischmann spoon-fed Drew Shore for a wide-open layup with 5:32 left to again make it a one-goal game.
Then with Marcel Goc in the penalty box, defenseman Brian Campbell sprung Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes on a break. Boyes held the puck, froze the lone defender and flicked in his team-leading 13th goal with 3:46 left to force OT.
The Panthers have now scored three short-handed goals to zero power-play goals over their last 13-plus games. Their 30th-ranked polar vortex power play went 0 for 4 and they've now extended their franchise-record drought to 42 straight, eclipsing the old mark of 37, set from Nov. 10-27, 2010.
Without defenseman Tom Gilbert diving to the ice to help goalie Tim Thomas (26 saves; 6-2 in shootouts) early in the overtime to stop a certain goal into an empty net by Danny DeKeyser, there never would've been a shootout in which the Panthers improved to 7-5, while the Red Wings dropped to 3-8.
"That's a tough building to be down a couple of goals," said Gilbert, who has notched six assists in his last five games. "We're pretty proud of the effort.
"Making a save like that means you're in the wrong position. Timmy's made enough saves for us, it's nice to give him one back."
Bergenheim gave the Panthers a rare 1-0 lead after the first period when he accepted a two-line pass from defenseman Dmitry Kulikov for a backhanded breakaway just 1:48 after the opening faceoff.
OLSEN RETURNS; KOPECKY ON IR
The Panthers activated defenseman Dylan Olsen Sunday and Horachek inserted him right into the lineup after missing the previous 10 games with an ankle injury.
Olsen replaced defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who Horachek said has played poorly since donning the full-cage helmet to protect his surgically repaired orbital bone on Jan. 6.
To make room for Olsen, the Panthers sent defenseman Alex Petrovic back to San Antonio and placed forward Tomas Kopecky on IR. Kopecky can be activated retroactively for Boston on Tuesday. Horachek is optimistic that Aleksander Barkov (knee) will rejoin the team on Monday.
(c)2014 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services