MONTREAL - The Columbus Blue Jackets ran rings around the Canadiens all night.
Montreal took eight minor penalties and played almost an entire period shorthanded in their 3-2 loss to a speedy Blue Jackets team on Thursday night.
"They were first on the puck, making us react to them, putting us on our heels a bit," said Lars Eller of a young and energized Columbus team in the heart of a heated playoff race. "When they do that, we take penalties."
Montreal played more than 15 minutes down a man, including 50 seconds on a 5-on-3. Seven different players did time in the penalty box for hooking, tripping, holding, high-sticking and once for having too many men on the ice.
Forwards Brian Gionta, Daniel Briere and Max Pacioretty saw their average ice time significantly reduced.
"There were a lot of guys sitting on the bench for long stretches that should have been out there," said Eller. "It's not good for our rhythm. We want to be five guys on the ice."
The undisciplined Canadiens began showing signs of frustration midway through the second period, taking several unwarranted penalties. Newcomer Thomas Vanek gave Columbus' Artem Anisimov a slew-foot when he was beaten to the puck, and Ryan White hooked Ryan Johansen after the 21-year-old flew past him.
In the third, P.K. Subban and Tomas Plekanec took back-to-back penalties for high-sticking.
But as successful as the Blue Jackets were in drawing penalties, their power play was a bit of a dud. Columbus went 0 for 8 with the extra skater, and saw all 13 power-play shots turned away by Carey Price.
"We'd love to get a power-play goal," said Columbus forward Brandon Dubinsky, whose team's power-play unit has not found the back of the net it its last 26 opportunities. "It's going to be important down the stretch. But we didn't earn all those power plays without playing the right way."
Dubinsky scored the go-ahead goal at 6:53 of the second period, at even strength, to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead after burying a juicy rebound past an off-balance Price.
"We skated, we were physical, we fore-checked hard," added Dubinsky. "I liked our tenacity. We created turnovers."
One of those turnovers came on the game-winning goal. Johansen made rookie defenceman Jarred Tinordi pay for a giveaway at the Canadiens' blue-line. Johansen intercepted Tinordi's weak pass, and beat Price on a partial breakaway for his team-leading 27th goal of the year at 16:59 of the third period.
"That doesn't feel good," said Tinordi, who had an otherwise solid game, blocking three shots in 15:29 of work. "It's a stupid play on my part. I put it on my backhand, trying to go through the middle. (Johansen's) a quick player. I should have anticipated he was going to be there."
The Blue Jackets (36-27-6) showcased their speed from the get-go, setting the tone after the initial faceoff by springing Cam Atkinson on a breakaway in the game's first six seconds. Price, who stopped 37 shots for the Canadiens (38-26-7), got the better of him.
But it was Price's counterpart, last season's Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who got the better of the Canadiens in the end. Bobrovsky made 25 saves for the win, and has now started the last 16 games for the Blue Jackets as well as 23 of their last 24.
The Habs beat Bobrovsky in the first period when Brendan Gallagher turned his stick into a baseball bat, hitting a puck out of mid-air at 14:53 to give the Canadiens the 1-0 lead. After an initial save, Gallagher took a swing at a waist-high puck, which floated above the net, landed on Bobrovsky chest and trickled past the goal-line.
Columbus wasted no time finding their equalizer, scoring exactly one minute after the Canadiens. With the youngster Johansen in the box for cross checking, Derek MacKenzie scored a short-handed goal right off the faceoff.
The Blue Jackets are now tied for third in the league with nine short-handed goals on the season.
After the Canadiens killed off three straight minor penalties to start the third, Vanek made it 2-2 at 7:46 with a slapshot from the face off circle to Bobrovsky's right.
The Blue Jackets have now collected 15 out of a possible 20 points in their last 10 games (7-2-1). The team is holding on to the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Columbus hopes to play post-season hockey for only the second time in the franchise's 14-year history. In 2009, they were eliminated by the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference quarter-finals.
Notes: Brandon Prust (upper-body injury) was not in the lineup for the Canadiens. Prust was hurt in Tuesday's 6-3 win against the Colorado Avalanche. Ryan White got the start in his place. ... RJ Umberger was a healthy scratch for the Blue Jackets. Rene Bourque and Douglas Murray sat out for the Canadiens. ... Max Pacioretty hasn't scored in seven games, his longest goal drought since November. He's two goals shy of 100 with the Canadiens. ... The Montreal Impact's Marco Di Vaio, Patrice Bernier and Justin Mapp were in attendance.