Joffrey Lupul scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 7:10 of the third period, beating a surprised Jimmy Howard after taking advantage of a Wings' turnover by Nicklas Kronwall from behind his own net.
With fans from both clubs in attendance, the crowd was lively from the drop of the puck, and especially in the final tense moments.
The Wings almost tied the game 4-4 in the final minute with the extra attacker when Pavel Datsyuk set up Johan Franzen in the slot but Gustavsson stoned him to preserve the slim one-goal lead.
"With just a few seconds left, you don't really think … I was fortunate to stop that one. That's the best feeling, when you get a win and it's so close," said Gustavsson, whose club has scored four or more goals in each of his 12 victories this season.
Gustavssson was solid all night, getting himself in front of the puck by any means necessary. Several shots hit him in the mask, at one point even dislodging it, prompting a whistle.
"Even though some of the shots looked like they were screened, he was in the right position. He came out of his net a little bit to kind of cut the angle off. I thought he played really well for them tonight," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said.
Despite facing only 18 shots, Howard made several big saves, the biggest of which came right after Lupul's go-ahead goal. A stop on Phil Kessel, who took a feed from Clarke MacArthur on a 2-on-1, kept the Wings in the game.
"It's so important to get off on a good start on the road. I thought I needed to be a little bit better for the guys," said Howard, who remains one win shy of 100 in his career. "You just take it one shot at a time out there. You try to make saves for the guys to try to get give them a chance to get back into it. I thought we did a great job at the start of the second making a game of it."
Detroit evened the score 3-3 early in the third, when Jiri Hudler was left alone in front to bury a Brad Stuart rebound. The goal brought the Wings all the way back from a 3-0 deficit after 20 minutes of play.
The Red Wings dominated the second period, holding Toronto to just two shots while peppering Gustavsson with 14 and scoring the only two goals, cutting the Leafs' 3-0 lead they held after 20 minutes to 3-2 after 40.
The Wings got on the board at 6:46 of the second, when Todd Bertuzzi scored his sixth of the season as he tipped Pavel Datsyuk's shot past Gustavsson. Following an argument from the Leafs that Bertuzzi had scored with a high stick, replays concluded that wasn't the case.
The Detroit fans in attendance almost had more to cheer about at the midpoint of the period. Once again, it was Bertuzzi making noise, this time bearing down on Gustavsson after being set up with a nice pass from the side boards. However, Gustavsson was able to elongate his body, sliding out from his crease, preventing the chance and causing Bertuzzi to go crashing over top of him.
Detroit would finally pull within one when Niklas Kronwall took matters into his own hands with less than five minutes remaining. In a great individual effort, the Wings' blueliner -- who will turn 31 in five days -- took a neat pass from Johan Franzen a few feet inside Toronto's blue line and then swooped from the outside in towards Gustavsson, outmuscling both Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie to the crease before shoveling in his ninth goal of the season at 15:49.
Kessel opened the scoring on a penalty shot less than five minutes in, going high on the forehand past a sprawled-out Howard. He was awarded the shot after being hooked by Ian White on a breakaway which was set up by a brilliant pass through the neutral zone from Tim Connolly.
In a game which featured clubs in the top 10 in power-play percentage, it was Toronto's third-ranked power play that struck. With Henrik Zetterberg in the box for holding the stick, Phaneuf intercepted a Wings' clearing attempt and fired a shot past Howard for his seventh goal of the season at 8:19.
David Steckel potted his seventh of the season after a missed opportunity by Detroit's Valterri Filppula, finishing off a passing play on the backhand to make it 3-0 at 11:36. The goal prompted Wings coach Mike Babcock to call a timeout.
"We weren't happy with the way we came out of the gate. They kept capitalizing on our mistakes and they were playing really well offensively. I thought once we settled down in the second period, we took the game over and we even tied the game up before we had another turnover that they capitalized on," Lidstrom said.
Meanwhile, Gustavsson was happy with his club's play -- not only from the outset, but also because they showed resiliency.
"It was a good test for us. We started really good, they came back into the game and that's when it can get tough. They have all the momentum, but I think we handled that really good. We got a big goal, we kept battling and I think it's really good for our team to know that we can do that," Gustavsson said.
With the victory, Toronto now has 276 regular season victories against the Wings, breaking the deadlock of 275 wins apiece.
1 - 0 TOR
2 - 0 TOR
3 - 0 TOR
3 - 1 TOR
3 - 2 TOR
3 - 3 Tie
4 - 3 TOR
Power Play Stats
Power Play %
% on Road
% at Home
Holding the stick