The 24-year-old Nyquist has 19 goals in 43 games after he had a total of four goals in 40 games spread out over the previous two seasons in the league.
Entering the game against Toronto, he was tied with Boston's Jarome Iginla with an NHL-high 12 goals since Jan. 20.
"I didn't know that," Nyquist said. "I'm just playing with some good players and I'm getting some good bounces."
While Nyquist is being humble about his goal-scoring stretch, teammate Daniel Alfredsson raved about the fellow Swede.
"He's really pesky on the forecheck and he's making a lot of plays," Alfredsson said. "His speed gives him chances that other players don't get. The second goal was a perfect example."
Early in the third period, Nyquist poked the puck off the boards to himself and charged up the ice early to flick a wrist shot from the right circle that beat James Reimers' blocker.
That goal seemed to set the Red Wings up for the victory, but they still had work to do.
Jake Gardiner scored on a power play midway through the third to pull Toronto within a goal.
The Maple Leafs appeared to tie the game less than two minutes later, but Nazem Kardri's goal was waved off because he made a kicking motion to knock the puck in with the inside of his right skate.
The Red Wings went ahead by two goals again with 2:33 left when Alfredsson's wrist shot from the slot hit the back of the net on an odd-man rush that Gardiner lamented.
"I thought we were going to come back at the end, but we made a mistake," Gardiner said.
The Maple Leafs pulled Reimer to add an extra skater seconds later and James van Riemsdyk scored with 1:13 left, but couldn't get the puck past Howard again to extend the game past regulation.
"Not a lot of space out on the ice," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said.
Reimer stopped 28 shots for the Maple Leafs.
Detroit is desperately trying to move up in the Eastern Conference standings to extend its postseason streak to 23 with a fraction of the team it expected to have this season.
Toronto is the first of two wild-card teams in the East, and the Red Wings wouldn't make the playoffs is they started Wednesday.
"A huge win for us," Nyquist said. "Also very important they didn't get a point too and we got two."
"I was a little nervous at the beginning," Landon Ferraro acknowledged.
Ferraro said it was "awesome" to have both his parents watch him play his first game for the Red Wings.
"It was real nice for both of them to be able to get in and be here for this," he said before chatting with his father in the dressing room after the game.
Abdelkader's injury also put 25-year-old defenseman Brendan Smith at forward for the first time since he was a teenager against Toronto.
The banged-up team, which had won just two of their previous seven games, took another hit against the Maple Leafs. The Red Wings started the game with numerous forwards, including Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, due to injuries and lost defenseman Jonathan Ericsson because of a broken finger.
"We get somebody hurt every day and they never come back," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "I guess he's out for a bit. I don't really know. A hand specialist is looking at him."
The Maple Leafs beat the Red Wings in their previous meeting, a 3-2 shootout on New Year's Day in the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, after losing the first matchup this season 5-4 in a shootout at home. ... Abdelkader is expected to be out for two weeks. ... Toronto, which closed its road trip 2-3, hosts Tampa Bay on Wednesday. ... Detroit's next game is Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.