WINNIPEG – Jonathan Toews may call Winnipeg home but he didn’t try to hide his feelings Thursday.
“It felt good, I’m not going to lie,” said the Blackhawks captain after his four points led Chicago to a 6-3 win over the Jets.
“It means a little bit more to have a chance to get on the scoresheet here in Winnipeg, in front of dozens of family and friends that are here at the game. There’s a little bit of added effort there.”
Toews had a goal and three assists as the Blackhawks dominated the first period, let the Jets come back in the second thanks to penalties, but came on strong in the third to seal the win.
“It was a more consistent, more complete effort,” said Toews, after the Blackhawks lost two of their previous three games to Nashville and Colorado.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was singing the same tune.
“I really liked the way we played tonight,” he said.
“I thought we answered the bell at the start of the game and answered the bell when they had their run there in the second. Excellent first and third periods.”
Toews linemate Marian Hossa celebrated his return from injury with the winner in the third.
Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Ben Smith also scored for Chicago (15-4-4), and Patrick Sharp capped it with an empty netter. The Blackhawks have won all three of their meetings with the Jets this season.
Andrew Ladd, Keaton Ellerby and Dustin Byfuglien scored for the Jets (10-11-3), who came to life in the second period with three goals.
“I thought their skill was evident in the game,” said Winnipeg coach Claude Noel of the Blackhawks, who have two Stanley Cups in the last three seasons.
“We didn’t have enough good players, we didn’t have enough good players or strong players. I thought they won a lot of battles in the hard areas. When you win Cups in the years that they’ve won them, you can see why.”
Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who kept the team in the game in the first period, said they got what they deserved.
“You play in your zone like we did tonight, you can’t expect to get a point,” he said.
“We did some good things. We scored some power-play goals. The second period was really good. But the D-zone coverage, I don’t know whether we don’t know what to do or just they’re too good, probably both.”
The first period was all Blackhawks, who outshot the Jets 12-2. Noel said the Jets had three or four rushes without managing a shot.
“Fur sure it was a concern,” he said of the failure to get up for the game, although he didn’t have any answers.
“It’s something I’ve got to figure out, it’s part of the job. Having said all that, we walk into the third period, we’re tied 3-3, we’re still in the game, we just need to muster up 20 minutes, but they stepped it up and played and we couldn’t handle it.”
Kane’s power-play goal late in the first got things started and Saad snapped one in from the slot to make it 2-0 just over three minutes into the second.
But then the game took a sharp left turn for the Hawks, as the Jets scored two goals in 29 seconds to tie it up.
Bryan Little fed Ladd and Ellerby used Winnipeg’s first power play of the game to score his first as a Jet from the point at 3:51.
Toews put the Blackhawks back in the lead just past the 11-minute mark but the Hawks then served up a 5-on-3 that Byfuglien cashed in at 13:30.
The shots told the story in the second, with the Jets ahead 14-8.
Hossa, sidelined for a few games by injury, put the Blackhawks ahead at 3:11 of the third and Smith raced in to bang in a rebound for some insurance at 5:22 to make it 5-3.
The Jets pulled Pavelec but were rewarded with Sharp’s shot into their empty net at 19:05.
A Winnipeg radio station had been urging fans to wear helmets to the game in response to a Chicago fan who stole Adam Pardy’s after the Jets defenceman was checked through the glass at the United Center on Nov. 6.
But the Jets didn’t like the idea and told fans they wouldn’t get in if they showed up with helmets on Thursday night.
There was a heavy police presence at the game but it wasn’t because of the rivalry between the two Central Division teams. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in attendance.
Notes: The Jets and Blackhawks play once more, Jan. 26 in Chicago. It’s a small league: Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien played for the Blackhawks and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was assistant GM when Chicago won a Stanley Cup in 2010. Michael Frolik was with the Blackhawks when they won the Cup last season. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews was born in Winnipeg. And original Jets’ goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who went with the team when it moved to Phoenix in 1996, still plays for the Blackhawks, although he’s out right now with a lower-body injury.