CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks didn't play loose with the lead Wednesday night at United Center.
Instead of letting an early two-goal lead melt away in the third period, as they've done a few times this season, the Blackhawks pushed the pedal to the floor in a 4-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets.
"That's something we've been focusing on," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "When you have teams coming in here really elevating their game to begin with, it's not always easy. But we really focused on that in the second and third [periods Wednesday], and it started defensively. [This] was a solid start, and we kind of sustained that pressure as the game went along."
It was the second comfortable win for the Blackhawks against the Jets in five days, after winning 5-1 at MTS Centre on Saturday in Toews' homecoming.
Toews didn't score a point in the game played in his hometown, but he scored the first goal Wednesday night. It was the first of four straight scores by the defending Stanley Cup champions, who also got goals from Patrick Kane, Brandon Pirri and Patrick Sharp (one goal, one assist).
Defenseman Duncan Keith finished with two assists for Chicago (10-2-4), giving him 12 for the season. He almost had a third on Sharp's unassisted goal in the third period.
Keith's two-point night came as part of a strong defensive effort, which included regular defenseman Sheldon Brookbank playing forward.
Led by its defense, Chicago killed a pair of power plays in the first and gathered momentum that stuck with the team the rest of the game. The Blackhawks dominated puck possession to take pressure off goalie Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and improved his record to 9-2-3 in 14 starts.
Devin Setoguchi scored his third goal of the season and Al Montoya (24 saves) took the loss in net for Winnipeg (6-9-2), which played without star forward Evander Kane (lower-body injury) for the second game in a row.
Jets coach Claude Noel was disappointed by how easily his team coughed up the puck, leading to two of the four Chicago goals.
"You have to manage the puck well," Noel said. "You want to start shooting yourself in the foot, it's in your net. We've given up nine goals in two games [against the Blackhawks]. Do we need to give up another four or five the next time to recognize this is what they can do? I understand we're not perfect, but those things hurt you. Your puck management has to be great."
Like the teams' first meeting, it was a close game early.
Toews started to change that with 2:31 left in the first period when he gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead. After getting out of the penalty box, he got right into the action by zipping a slick reverse pass to Kane for a prime scoring chance alone in the slot. Montoya, who's from Chicago, turned the shot away with a nice right pad save, but the Jets were unable to clear the zone.
Moments later, Sharp fed Toews near the front of the net and the Blackhawks captain tucked the puck under Montoya's pads for his eighth goal of the season and first since recording a natural hat trick at home Oct. 29 against the Ottawa Senators.
Kane made it 2-0 just six seconds before the horn sounded to end the first period, rewarding Brent Seabrook for a great stretch pass by firing a wrister from the left circle to beat Montoya high to the far side of the net.
It took most of the middle period for the Blackhawks to strike again. Pirri eventually pushed it to a 3-0 lead with 1:58 left in the second by firing a laser into the top right corner from the slot to cap a breakaway set up by a nice pass from Ben Smith in the neutral zone.
"It was good to keep pressing forward," Sharp said. "We've seen a few times this year we've had a two-goal lead and then gave it up in the third period. I thought the guys stayed focused and continued to press on, and we were able to get a couple more."
Pirri's wasn't the only breakaway Montoya faced in the period. About midway through the second, he had to make a pad save to stop Marian Hossa's break, which was also created by a nice stretch pass.
A couple minutes later, Chicago got a power play after some highlight-worthy stickhandling by Kane in the offensive zone. Just as he did in an advertising video that went viral during the preseason, Kane weaved around several Jets defenders in the offensive zone like they were orange cones. Eric Tangradi's trip was the only thing that stopped him.
"He had a couple shifts where he was putting on a show," Toews said. "When he gets it going, that one play where he drew the penalty, it was pretty fun to watch that. Not too many guys can do that. He was almost just horsing around, having fun and playing pond hockey. No one could take the puck from him. Pretty amazing skill."
Montoya helped thwart that Blackhawks power play, but couldn't keep the dam from breaking. Sharp sniped his fourth of the season from the left circle, unassisted, four minutes into the third for a 4-0 lead.
Setoguchi scored to end Crawford's shutout bid almost five minutes later.
Late in the game, Chicago's Brandon Bollig hit Winnipeg defenseman Adam Pardy hard with a legal check that knocked out a piece of glass in the corner of the Jets zone. Pardy's helmet was removed by a fan, who donned the protective headpiece for a brief time before it was retrieved and returned to the Jets blueliner.
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