By Bill Whitehead
Nick Bjugstad and Tim Thomas finished off all the hard work the Florida Panthers did in the third period on Sunday.
The Panthers rallied by scoring two goals in the game’s final six minutes, and Bjugstad tallied the game-winner in the shootout’s only goal as Thomas slammed the door on all three Detroit shots, leading Florida to a wild 5-4 victory over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.
With Aleksander Barkov missing his second game due to a lower-body injury, interim coach Peter Horachek called on Bjugstad, who was 1-for-3 in his career in the shootout, to go first against Red Wings goalie Jonas Gustavsson after Thomas denied Tomas Tatar.
Bjugstad drove in hard and flipped a high shot over Gustavsson’s glove for a 1-0 edge. Thomas then showed his glove skills against Daniel Alfredsson and Patrick Eaves, making glove saves against all to secure the win in his home state of Michigan.
The win lifted Thomas’s record to 6-2 in the shootout, while the Panthers improved to 7-5. Detroit, who now has 11 overtime/shootout losses, fell to 3-8 in the shootout. The Red Wings also dropped to 9-11-8 at home.
“We were fortunate that a lot of guys came up big. Timmy came up big in the shootout, too. I was a little nervous. I’d never gone first in the shootout before,” Bjugstad said on the broadcast after the game.
Down 3-1 starting the third period, Florida (21-24-7) cut it to a 1-goal deficit when Jesse Winchester scored a greasy goal, his seventh, by poking a loose puck past Gustavsson at 9:12. But all the momentum was lost when Detroit (23-18-11) got an answer from Tatar four minutes later.
The Panthers, starting a 4-game road trip, mounted their comeback from there.
Tomas Fleischmann, mired in an awful slump, held the puck, weaved into the slot and fired a shot that ricocheted off Gustavsson. Drew Shore flipped the puck into the open net for his fourth goal with 5:32 remaining. Brad Boyes completed the comeback with a shorthanded goal when he fired one from the right circle, beating Gustavsson on the far side, with his 13th goal with 3:46 left in regulation.
The Panthers’ greatest defensive problem of late, clearing the puck out of their own end, bit them again in the second period. Defenseman Ed Jovanovski’s pass to Shore turned in to a turnover and a goal by Gustav Nyquist. More Florida miscues led to Detroit goals by Daniel Alfredsson and Riley Sheahan, leaving Florida in a 3-1 hole with 20 minutes to play.
Sean Bergenheim gave Florida a 1-0 lead just 1:48 into the fourth meeting between the teams when he took a pass from Dmitry Kulikov, raced in and beat Gustavsson.
Defenseman Tom Gilbert kept the Panthers in the game in overtime when he made a sliding kick save of a shot by Danny DeKeyser toward an open net after Thomas moved way above the crease to stop the initial shot. Gilbert finished with two assists.
Florida travels to Boston for a game Tuesday against the Bruins.