"Obviously, we're going to be a better team after the break with getting our guys back," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. "We're better this year. Last year we didn't have the depth that we do this year."
Detroit snapped New Jersey's four-game winning streak and dealt the Devils their first loss in regulation in eight games. The Red Wings are in second place in the Western Conference.
Filppula's goal snapped a 1-1 tie. New Jersey had a goal disallowed with 2:28 remaining when officials ruled Howard was pushed into the net by an attacking player.
Franzen scored his 21st goal of the season with 43.6 seconds to play after the Devils were unable to pull Brodeur for an extra skater.
"When you look at all the injuries that we've had, the way we've been able to stay in the standings says a lot about our character and our team and our management and coaching staff," said Howard, who was in his third game back from a bruised right kneecap.
With the game tied after two periods, Detroit began putting more pressure on and eventually broke through. The puck came to Ruslan Salei at the point. He sent it to Jiri Hudler on the right side, who then found Filppula with a nice cross-ice pass. Filppula beat Brodeur with a wrist shot for his 12th goal of the season.
Later in the period, Howard stopped Dainius Zubrus on a 3-on-1 that began when Detroit's Patrick Eaves went down injured at center ice. Officials let play continue at first but then gave Rolston a double-minor for high-sticking.
"I'm surprised at the four minutes. We almost scored," Devils coach Jacques Lemaire said. "Three of the best players in the National Hockey League went over and talked to them and all of a sudden it's four minutes. ... Don't want to criticize -- just saying it doesn't look good."
Babcock said after the game Eaves was OK. Rolston said he didn't realize he'd hit Eaves and that a linesman made the call.
The Red Wings wasted a two-man advantage after a delay-of-game call, but the penalties cost New Jersey valuable time.
The Devils are in last place in the East, only now beginning to recover from their terrible start, which included a right knee injury to Zach Parise that has kept the left wing out since Oct. 30.
New Jersey fired coach John MacLean in late December and brought back Lemaire to try to salvage the season.
"We did fine," Lemaire said. "Our kids made a few mistakes on defense. Hey, what can you do?"
Helm opened the scoring 1:43 into the game, stealing the puck from New Jersey's Mark Fraser and skating in alone on Brodeur before beating the goaltender high to the glove side.
The Devils tied it later in the first period when Howard was handcuffed by a shot from the left side. He stopped it but left a rebound, and Rolston poked at the puck for a bit before it finally went in.
Neither team managed many scoring opportunities in the second. Howard made a nice save on Ilya Kovalchuk early in the period, and Helm nearly scored again when he led a 2-on-1, short-handed break. He shot wide but drew a cheer from the home crowd when he helped Detroit waste precious seconds in New Jersey's zone while killing the penalty.
"He's been playing really well," Filppula said. "Obviously, today, really nice goal and had a lot of energy and a lot of jump. He's definitely a really important guy for us."
Helm and Rolston each scored their sixth goals of the season. ... The Red Wings won 4-1 at New Jersey on Dec. 11. ... New Jersey wasn't called for a penalty in the first two periods. ... Helm has four goals and eight assists in his past 13 games. ... Franzen's goal was his 200th career point.