DETROIT -- With heavy hearts, the Detroit Red Wings used a gritty defensive effort and a pair of timely goals in the second period to defeat the Central Division-leading Florida Panthers, 2-1, at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday evening.
Detroit played its first game after learning about the sudden and tragic death of longtime team masseur Sergei Tchekmarev, better known as "Cheeka," who worked for the Red Wings for more than 20 years. Tchekmarev passed away on Friday night, and the team received the news after Friday's series-opening game.
Video: FLA@DET: Red Wings remember Sergei Tchekmarev
With the win, the Red Wings improved to 5-12-3 (13 points) on the season, and secured their second win against the Panthers this season. Florida moved to 11-3-2, one point clear of Carolina for the lead in the Central Division.
The Red Wings will wrap up their six-game homestand by hosting the Nashville Predators on Tuesday and Thursday. Florida will begin a five-game homestand against the Dallas Stars on Monday.
After a difficult night on and off the ice on Friday, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill was pleased with his team's response in salvaging a series split against one of the top teams in the NHL.
"I thought it was a good bounce-back for us, for sure, in terms of the compete and work," Blashill said. "They're a good hockey team and had a number of chances. Bernie was real good. We weren't great in the first, but I thought we really started pushing in the second, and we were able to build that lead. We had, certainly, the better chances in the second, and then we find a way to win these tight games. This is what we've talked about lots; we have to be in this spot lots, and find ways to win them. Tonight we did that."
Video: Coca-Cola Post Game Comments | 2/20 FLA
Both teams traded chances through the opening 15 minutes, until Alex Wennberg gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 5:17 of the first period. He retrieved the puck in front of the net with an opportunistic one-on-one chance against Bernier, and made a pair of dekes before burying the puck in the back of the net. Florida took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room at the intermission, and owned a 9-5 advantage on shots.
The Red Wings tied the game, 1-1, at 10:09 of the second period after defenseman Patrik Nemeth scored his first goal in the previous 71 games played. Luke Glendening convincingly won another faceoff that was collected by Christian Djoos, and fed the puck to Nemeth, who finished top shelf past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's left shoulder.
Video: FLA@DET: Nemeth finds twine with wrister from circle
Detroit stole momentum heading into the second intermission by scoring and taking a 2-1 lead with 2:33 remaining in the period. Winger Mathias Brome tallied his first NHL point -- and the eventual game-winner -- after rebounding captain Dylan Larkin's preceding shot into the back of the net. The Red Wings played an aggressive style in the frame, attempting 13 shots on net.
"It's just big for us to keep spreading the scoring out," Blashill said. "I thought Bromes has had a lot of opportunities to score, and some looked like they should have gone in, and didn't. And Nemo's real smart about getting into areas to shoot pucks, and so, good for him to bury that one. And good for Bromes; hopefully it takes some weight off Bromes' shoulders. Hopefully he can build on that and continue to score."
With some chippy play picking up mid-way through the third period, the Red Wings killed an active power play from the Panthers, including an acrobatic save by goalie Jonathan Bernier as time expired on the man advantage. The Red Wings preserved the one-goal lead for the duration of the game, becoming the first team in the NHL this season to beat the Panthers twice.
Video: FLA@DET: Bernier makes shorthanded save on Verhaeghe
Larkin was proud of the team's effort and resolve following an emotional 24 hours and quick turnaround.
"It was a very difficult 24 hours. First it was a tough night on the ice, which happens in this league," Larkin said. "More importantly, we lost a friend, someone that cared so much about everyone he met. Everyone that was kind to him he gave it back a thousand times more. It was devastating news. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Receiving timely goals from Nemeth and Brome, and another stellar effort from Bernier, was also a boost for the team, Larkin said.
"It was very important. We've gotten scoring from depth guys recently," said Larkin. "It's been huge. We've been right there in close games. We played a great third period. I think Jonathan Bernier was the story tonight. He's on a great run here. It's great to get a win for him and see how hard he played.
Tuesday's puck drop between the Red Wings and Predators is set for 7:30 p.m. from Little Caesars Arena (Fox Sports Detroit Plus, 97.1 The Ticket.)
Video: Bernier, Brome help Red Wings hold off Panthers, 2-1