SUNRISE, Florida -- In theory, it should have been an easy victory. The Red Wings, with the best road record in the League, should have romped right over the Florida Panthers, who have the League's worst home record. And in almost every aspect of the game, the Red Wings outplayed the Panthers, all except for one- goals for. Goaltender Roberto Luongo played an amazing game, almost single-handedly carrying his team before finally giving up the game winning goal in overtime, letting the Red Wings breathe a sigh of relief at their 3-2 victory.
The Red Wings outplayed the Panthers by a considerable margin through the first period, outshooting them 11-5, but it was the Panthers who took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Just as a Detroit power play was ending, Nicholas Hagman brought the puck out through center, accompanied by two of his Florida teammates. Brad Ference stepped out of the box and joined the rush, giving the Panthers a four-on-two. Hagman passed neatly to Christian Huselius, who got ahead of the Red Wings' defensemen and put the puck past Dominik Hasek for the goal.
Florida scored again only eighteen seconds into the second period. The Panthers controlled the opening faceoff, and Valeri Bure brought the puck into Detroit's zone. He delayed passing until the last second, drawing Hasek towards him. Bure then passed across to Sandis Ozolinsh, and Hasek was not able to get back across the front of the net in time to stop Ozolinsh from putting the puck into the net.
The Red Wings shelled Luongo with shots for the rest of the second period, but were unable to score until the period was nearly halfway over, while Byron Ritchie was in the penalty box for holding. Nick Lidstrom passed the puck to Brett Hull at the right point, who passed up to Luc Robitaille standing by the side of the net. Robitaille made a backhand shot and put the puck in high on the far side of Luongo.
Detroit continued its domination of the game, but Luongo played the game of his life, setting a new Panthers franchise record by stopping an amazing fifty-seven shots and keeping the Red Wings trailing by one.
The Red Wings kept coming, and finally Robitaille tied the game with just over two minutes left in regulation play. Detroit got a lucky break when Bill Lindsay took a penalty, and they managed to control the puck in the Panthers' end. Hull faked a shot from the blue line, and passed instead to Robitaille at the right face-off circle. Robitaille's one-timed wrist shot lifted over Luongo and into the net.
Both teams came on hard in the overtime period, but it was Pavel Datsyuk who made the winning goal happen. He pulled the puck out from a tangle of players along the boards and headed for the net, sneaking past Olli Jokinen and sending the pass back right to Hull. Hull fired hard, and finally put one past Luongo.
The Red Wings next game will be Saturday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Penguins.