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Jets' Montoya shines in hometown, beats Blackhawks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO -- Al Montoya quickly let in a goal he regretted Sunday night and then spent the rest of the game making up for it in a big victory for the Winnipeg Jets.

Playing for the first time since Jan. 5, a span of eight games, Montoya made 34 saves in his hometown to lead the Jets to a 3-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.

"This is very special," said Montoya, who beat the Blackhawks in the Windy City for the first time in three career starts. "I've been waiting for this one since I was a kid, so I can't even describe it. All my friends and family [were] in the stands. I've had some close ones, some good games in here, but this one takes it."

Former Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd, now Winnipeg's captain, snapped a wrist shot past Corey Crawford with 7:07 left in the third period for the game-winner on his 150th career goal. Earlier in the third, Blake Wheeler scored his 20th goal to tie it 1-1 on just the 10th shot of the game for the Jets, who were outshot 22-2 through the game's first 33-plus minutes.

"I think we loosened up in the second intermission," said Wheeler, who sealed it with his second goal of the game, scored into an empty net with 1:15 left to play. "We almost had to laugh at ourselves a bit the way the game had gone, especially the first period. They were all over us and our goalie was huge."

The victory improved Winnipeg's record to 1-5-1 in the second game of back-to-back sets and upped the Jets' record to 6-1-0 since Jan. 12, when Paul Maurice replaced Claude Noel as coach.

Maurice was impressed with his team's persistence, especially after being outshot 27-6 in the first 40 minutes a day after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime at MTS Centre.

"They were a tired group at that point," Maurice said. "That win right there is just a great sign of character. I really can't say enough about [it]. That kind of character win goes a long way."

It was a different tune for Chicago, which heads out on a seven-game road trip that will be sandwiched around the 2014 Sochi Games in the middle of February.

Brandon Bollig scored the lone goal for the Blackhawks (32-10-12), who couldn't get another one past Montoya. They are now winless in their past three games and have lost two games in a row in regulation for just the second time.

"I think the first 40 [minutes], we gave up nothing," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We get an unfortunate bounce right to their guy [Wheeler] and it's a 1-1 game. We made an uncharacteristic giveaway on the winning goal [by Ladd]. Tough loss for sure."

Chicago, which played without forward Bryan Bickell after Quenneville made him a surprise healthy scratch, wasted no time taking an early lead. Bollig beat Montoya at 1:21 of the first with a backhand attempt coming out from below the goal line that snuck between the right pad and post for his sixth goal.

Chicago, which led 18-2 in shots after the first, put the pedal down offensively. They pressed for an early knockout, but Montoya was up to the challenge. He kept the scoreboard 1-0 in favor of Chicago with a number of outstanding saves.

He stopped a pair of breakaways, including a right pad save at 7:55 to turn away Marian Hossa before using a nifty glove save to swat away Kris Versteeg's wrister off a partial break with 6:33 left in the period.

There was also a great stop with the right pad at 6:41 thwart a snap shot by Patrick Kane from close range and a blast by Patrick Sharp from the right circle that he swallowed up eight minutes later.

"He was our game," Maurice said of Montoya, whom he used for the first time since taking over behind the Jets' bench. "He got better and better. He was fantastic in the first. He had one squeak by him, but he was great and gave us a chance to stay in the game long enough to have the rebound that we did."

Not much changed in the first 10 minutes of the second.

Chicago kept adding to its shot total, without scoring, and the Jets remained stuck on two shots until nearly tying it at 13:40 on rapid-fire shots by Bryan Little and Ladd. The only thing that kept the Blackhawks ahead was defenseman Sheldon Brookbank's left skate, which he used to stop Ladd's rebound attempt from the low slot off Little's initial shot.

Winnipeg gained steam heading into the third and finally rewarded Montoya with Wheeler's goal at 8:16, which tied it 1-1 on his first of the game. A point shot by Mark Stuart got redirected right to Wheeler in the bottom of the right circle and he fired a quick snap shot over Crawford's glove, letting the air out of the Blackhawks' night.

"They had [six] shots until the third period," Versteeg said. "We were good for 40 [minutes] and they got a lucky bounce. It kind of snowballed in the wrong direction. We were definitely, for sure, the better team out there in the first 40, but you have to give them credit. They came back and played their game."

Ladd gave the Jets the lead, 2-1, with his 12th goal. Following a rare turnover by Hossa in the Chicago defensive zone, Ladd scored off a wrister that skipped off Duncan Keith's shin pad and eluded Crawford's glove.

Montoya and the Winnipeg defense then closed it out.

"That win's all [Montoya]," Ladd said. "He gave us a chance going into the third. We talked about it in this room. We were only down one, we had a chance to win the game and we wanted to reward him for playing out of his mind in the first two periods."

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