The Red Wings set themselves up to win a season-high third straight game at home without their two best players.
But, Nick Bjugstad scored in a shootout and Tim Thomas stopped all three attempts, lifting the Florida Panthers to a 5-4 win at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday after trailing by two goals twice in regulation.
"There were many things we didn't do right, but we got two points in a character game," Florida interim coach Peter Horachek said.
The Red Wings, who were without injured stars Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, allowed Brad Boyes to score a game-tying, shorthanded goal with 3:46 left in the third period, a couple of minutes after teammate Drew Shore scored.
"We deserved to win this game and we did lots of good things," said Detroit's Tomas Tatar, whose third-period goal put Detroit up 4-2. "We ended up short. Hockey is 60 minutes and you can't stop after 55 and let them win the game."
"When you're up 3-1, should you win? Yup," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "When you're up 4-2 should you win? Absolutely. We didn't."
Thomas stopped 26 shots, and was fortunate defenseman Tom Gilbert kicked away a shot in overtime.
"It looked like a goal to me, they had pretty much an empty net, and he stuck his foot out there and made a big save," Horachek said. " That's character. That's the way you find ways to win."
After the win, Thomas was able to joke about the assist he got from Gilbert.
"I was going to make the save, but I saw him laying there," he said. "Everybody is pitching in any way they can."
The Panthers started and finished strong.
Sean Bergenheim put the Panthers ahead just 1:48 into the game. In between, they bounced back well enough to stay in the game and ultimately to force overtime and the shootout.
After the Red Wings surged ahead 3-1 in the second, Jesse Winchester pulled the Panthers within a goal midway through the third.
Tatar restored the two-goal lead a few minutes later by shooting high when Thomas went low. Shore scored to make it 4-3 with 5:32 left in the game.
"We stopped shooting the puck a little bit in the third and tried to get cute," Babcock said.
Zetterberg was a late scratch with a back injury after being hurt in a game against the Montreal Canadiens on Friday. Zetterberg missed 11 games with a back injury in December.
"He's been having back issues, we knew that," Babcock said. "You come to the rink hopeful he's going to play."
Datsyuk missed a 10th straight game with a lower-body injury. He and Zetterberg are day-to-day.
The Red Wings did get forward Johan Franzen back in the lineup after he missed 16 games with a concussion.
Howard has been out with an injured left knee and he might play Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers. Forward Joakim Andersson missed his sixth straight game with a lower-body injury, and is expected to return against the Flyers or Friday night against the Washington Capitals.
Florida rookie forward Aleksander Barkov didn't play because of a lower-body injury sustained against the Buffalo Sabres last Tuesday.
Material from wire services was used in this report.