SUNRISE, Fla. -- With the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic fast approaching, things appear to be turning around for the Detroit Red Wings.
Captain Henrik Zetterberg scored in his return to the lineup Saturday, forward Justin Abdelkader also returned, and the Red Wings finally found a way to solve the Florida Panthers.
Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist scored 38 seconds apart early in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and the Red Wings held on for a 4-3 victory at BB&T Center.
The Red Wings, who won for the third time in four games after losing six in a row, have one more game, on the road against the Nashville Predators on Monday, before they face the Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on Wednesday.
"We won three out of four here suddenly and some things are better, obviously getting [Zetterberg] and [Abdelkader] back," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "[Abdelkader] skated well tonight, and Zetterberg is just a good player with good will and provides leadership for us.
"We made some big mistakes. We gave them two goals with turnovers, kids making mistakes, but you learn from those things. We found a way to win a game and we're going to skate a lot better after another day's practice. Everyone had turkey legs at the start, but they got going."
Florida won the first two games of the season between the new Atlantic Division foes, 2-1 in overtime on Dec. 7 and 3-2 in a shootout three nights later. The Panthers came into the season with four victories in 23 games against the Red Wings.
The Panthers lost for the first time in four games against the teams featured in this season's HBO "24/7," the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Florida won 3-1 at Toronto on Dec. 17.
Zetterberg, playing for the first time since Dec. 1 after missing 11 games because of a back injury, and Daniel Alfredsson had power-play goals to give the Red Wings a 2-0 lead in the first period. Pavel Datsyuk had two assists, and Jonas Gustavsson made 30 saves.
Zetterberg finished with three shots and got 21:43 of ice time, the most of any Red Wings forward.
"It was fun to play," Zetterberg said. "I felt pretty good on my legs. I'll see how I feel in Nashville, but I'll take it one day at a time."
Zetterberg's return came in the same building where Datsyuk came back earlier this month after missing seven games because of a concussion.
"It's huge," Nyquist said of having Zetterberg back in the lineup. "Hank brings so much to this team, both on and off the ice. With him and [Pavel] playing, you can really feel the difference. That's why they're our leaders."
Sean Bergenheim had two goals and Nick Bjugstad also scored for the Panthers, who have lost three in a row following a season-long five-game winning streak.
"We showed a lot of battle," Bjugstad said. "It's tough getting down two goals against this team, very skilled team. We fought back and worked hard. Unfortunately, it didn't go the way we wanted it to."
Scott Clemmensen got the start in goal even though Tim Thomas was activated off injured reserve earlier in the week; Clemmensen finished with 27 saves.
Smith gave Detroit a 3-2 lead 42 seconds into the third period with his first goal of the season and his second in 78 NHL games.
After Clemmensen stopped Zetterberg on a partial breakaway, Detroit defenseman Kyle Quincey held a Florida clearing attempt at the blue line and fed Smith, who beat Clemmensen with a one-timer from the point.
Nyquist made it 4-2 at 1:20 after Clemmensen failed to cleanly handle Jakub Kindl's wrist shot from the point and Nyquist put home the rebound.
"When you give up two goals and they tie it in the second, you want to come out with a push in the third," Nyquist said. "We were in a great spot, 2-2 on the road, and had a chance to win a period and win a game. That's what we did."
Bergenheim cut the Detroit lead to 4-3 at 4:27 after he got a long rebound in the high slot and beat Gustavsson through the five-hole with a wrist shot.
Gustavsson preserved the victory with a pad save on Tomas Kopecky off a scrum in front of the net in the final 30 seconds.
"I think there were a couple of times where I thought that the puck was going in, but there was always something it hit," Bergenheim said. "We had belief all the way to the end. Even to the last faceoff, I thought we were going to do this."
Detroit took advantage of special teams to take the lead in the first period, converting on two of three power plays and killing three penalties. The Red Wings finished the game 2-for-5 on the power play; the Panthers were 1-for-6.
"Each team has three power plays in the first; it's a nightmare," Babcock said. "You're trying to play your whole bench and they won't let you. In the end, we had good special teams for us and it was positive."
Alfredsson opened the scoring at 3:47, 12 seconds after Florida's Dmitry Kulikov went to the penalty box for hooking. Alfredsson beat Clemmensen with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle through traffic.
Zetterberg made it 2-0 at 14:29 after Datsyuk stopped a Panthers clearing attempt at the blue line. Datsyuk then fired a cross-ice pass to Zetterberg near the right faceoff dot. He took his time before firing a wrist shot that beat Clemmensen high to the short side.
Bergenheim got Florida within 2-1 at 12:52 of the second period. Brian Campbell skated the puck into the Detroit zone and moved outside before flipping a saucer pass to Bergenheim, who beat Gustavsson with a quick backhand.
Bjugstad tied the score 2-2 at 14:59 with his second highlight-reel goal in the past two games against Detroit. He intercepted Tomas Jurco's pass across the Florida blue line and easily skated past Niklas Kronwall for a breakaway, then beat Gustavsson with a deke to his forehand.
"I got kind of lucky that puck landed right on my tape," Bjugstad said. "My eyes were real big when I was skating down the ice. It was good. I enjoy playing these guys, a good group of forwards, just a good group overall. We battled tonight."
Bjugstad scored the game-tying goal in the third period Dec. 10 after beating Datsyuk along the boards, skating to the front of the net and firing a quick shot under the crossbar.
On this night, though, the Red Wings had the final answer.
"It was nice after a little break here to come back and get a good start," Zetterberg said. "We got two points and we won."