Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk and Wojtek Wolski of Florida traded goals in the first round of the tiebreaker, but Hudler put the Wings ahead to stay in the next frame, beating Scott Clemmensen with a high shot.
The victory gave the Red Wings 99 points in the Western Conference. They had entered the game tied with Nashville for the conference's fourth and final home-ice berth for the playoffs.
Howard turned aside 27 shots to record the victory.
The Panthers, meanwhile, used the single point to move three up on Washington atop the Southeast Division.
Tomas Fleischmann scored and Clemmensen made with 31 stops for Florida.
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