Red Wings-Panthers Preview

The Associated Press

After taking advantage of an unexpected opportunity, Jimmy Howard will try to build on his bounce-back performance when he faces one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams.

He could get some support offensively if Pavel Datsyuk returns.

The Detroit Red Wings will try to finally contain Sean Bergenheim and avoid their fourth loss in five games to the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Though coach Mike Babcock wanted to rest the veteran goalie, Howard was pressed into action Monday when Jonas Gustavsson left following the first period because of dizziness.

Howard had played the previous two games following a four-game absence due to a left knee injury. He stepped up with 16 saves over the final two periods after Gustavsson stopped eight in the first in a 2-0 home win over Vancouver.

It was the first time the Red Wings (25-19-12) had a combined shutout since Oct. 27, 2001, when they went on to hoist the Stanley Cup.

''Maybe it's a good omen,'' Howard said.

While insisting Gustavsson is fine, Babcock confirmed Howard would be back between the pipes when Detroit looks to snap a season-worst four-game road losing streak.

Datsyuk, second on the team with 15 goals, will take part in Thursday's practice before determining whether he'll be able to return. The center, who hasn't played since New Year's Day because of a lower-body injury, has scored six times with 11 assists in 12 career games against the Panthers.

Since opening 10-3-1 on the road, the Red Wings have gone 4-5-3 away from home. They were blanked in three straight road contests before losing 6-5 in overtime at Washington on Sunday.

Howard allowed a season-high six goals on 28 shots before getting back on track Monday. He's given up three goals on 55 shots in going 1-0-1 in two career meetings with the Panthers (22-27-7), who rank near the bottom of the league with 2.32 goals per game.

In Howard's most recent start against Florida, Bergenheim began the hosts' rally from two goals down with a third-period score in a 3-2 shootout win Dec. 10. The left wing had two goals against Gustavsson on Dec. 28, but Gustav Nyquist provided a key third-period insurance tally as Detroit held on for a 4-3 victory - its lone win in four meetings this season.

Bergenheim also scored in a 5-4 shootout win in Detroit on Jan. 26. He ranks second on the Panthers with 13 goals, with four coming in his last three games against the Red Wings.

Florida's Tim Thomas could get the nod in this meeting since he's 3-0-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average in the season series.

After allowing 14 goals over his previous three starts, Thomas turned back 20 shots to help the Panthers end a three-game skid with a 4-1 win over visiting Toronto on Tuesday.

''It was probably our best game of the year,'' center Shawn Matthias said. ''It was an exciting game for us.''

Florida will have to keep an eye on Nyquist, who has eight goals in his last eight games. He's also scored in each of the last two meetings with the Panthers.

Teammate Justin Abdelkader had both goals Monday, giving him three in two games. The left wing, though, has just one assist in seven career contests against the Panthers.

Detroit is 9-1-2 with two ties all-time on the road against the Panthers.