SUNRISE, Fla. -- It was hard to tell what the Detroit Red Wings were more excited about Thursday night -- center Gustav Nyquist's tiebreaking, second-period goal or the return of center Pavel Datsyuk.
The physical and emotional gains sparked the Red Wings to a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
Right winger Daniel Alfredsson, who scored Detroit's first goal, said the return of four-time All-Star Datsyuk was huge.
"He gives the team so much on both ends of the ice," Alfredsson said. "As a line, I thought we played OK -- not great. But he makes good plays. He's smart, and he makes life a lot easier for everyone."
Nyquist gave Detroit the goal it needed to secure the win. With the score tied 1-1, he scored unassisted with 6:38 left in the second period, beating Panthers goalie Tim Thomas high to the stick side.
There was no traffic in front of Thomas on what was a bit of a soft goal. Thomas deflected the puck with his right shoulder, but it still hit the back of the net.
"The play started in our (defensive) zone," Nyquist said. "Howie (goalie Jimmy Howard) made a big stop, and the puck came to me.
"I skated wide (on the left side), and I tried to catch (Thomas) off guard with a quick shot."
Howard (12-12-9) made 23 saves. Thomas (15-17-3) made 30 stops.
The Red Wings (26-19-12) remained tied for seventh place in the tightly packed Eastern Conference after picking up a badly needed win. They also got some revenge after losing three of their first four games against the Panthers this season.
Florida (22-28-7), barring a near-miraculous run, is likely out of the playoff chase.
The Red Wings dominated the first period, outshooting the Panthers 11-2. But Detroit could not score, failing on two power-play opportunities -- one on a tripping penalty against center Scott Gomez and the second as the result of a slashing call against right winger Scottie Upshall.
After the Panthers killed the second penalty, Upshall raced out of the box and was hit with a perfect pass by right winger Tomas Kopecky. Upshall took advantage of the breakaway and beat Howard between the legs to give Florida a 1-0 lead with 25 seconds remaining in the period.
It was the Panthers' second and final shot of the period. It was also Upshall's 10th goal of the season and career assist No. 100 for Kopecky.
"We got a very opportunistic goal there, and it was great to have that 1-0 lead," Thomas said. "But we never picked up any momentum off of that goal."
Detroit got its power play going in the second period, tying the score 1-1 when Alfredsson scored one of the easiest goals of his life, slamming in a rebound on the open left side of the net.
The goal, which came with 13:30 left in the second period, was Alfredsson's 13th of the season. Left winger Justin Abdelkader and defenseman Niklas Kronwall got the assists on a power play that was set up after Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell was sent off for tripping center Darren Helm.
After Nyquist's tiebreaking goal, the Wings got an empty-net score from defenseman Brian Lashoff with 19 seconds left.
"They outworked us," Panthers coach Peter Horachek said of Detroit. "We want to play a full game, and we didn't. I don't know why."
NOTES: Red Wings C Pavel Datsyuk returned to action after missing 14 games with a lower-body injury. The Wings were 6-6-2 without him. ... Two Panthers will be competing in the Olympics -- RW Tomas Kopecky (Slovakia) and rookie C Aleksander Barkov (Finland). It is Kopecky's second Olympic appearance and the first for Barkov. ... The Wings have 10 Olympians. ... Wings C Stephen Weiss, a former Panthers standout, practiced Wednesday but missed Thursday night's game because of a hernia. He has been out since Dec. 10. ... Wings C Johan Franzen (concussion) and D Jacob Kindl (lower-body injury) also were out. ... The Panthers scratched D Dylan Olsen and RWs Krys Barch and Jimmy Hayes. ... The Wings scratched RWs Patrick Eaves, Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Cleary. ... Next up for the Panthers is a road game on Friday at Carolina. After that, they take a 20-day Olympic break before hosting the Washington Capitals on Feb. 27. ... The Wings play Saturday at Tampa Bay and then are off until a Feb. 26 visit to Montreal.