The Montreal Canadiens had won three games in a row, while the Columbus Blue Jackets hadn’t lost in four to move atop their division. With both teams playing well leading up to the All-Star break, it was set up to be an entertaining game in Columbus.
The first period from far from going down in history as a classic, with brief offensive flurries following bouts of tight checking in the neutral zone. Set up in the Canadiens’ end, the Blue Jackets were able to move the puck to the front of the net on a few occasions, but Carey Price was prepared for anything coming his way.
Max Domi had the first chance for Montreal. Although it seemed like a fairly routine shot, it fooled Joonas Korpisalo, and he spilled the puck to his side before pouncing on it to prevent a rebound chance.
The netminder also had difficulty with a Michael Chaput shot later in the period, failing to clamp it down and giving Montreal another chance to claim the puck. They did just that, and the result was the first goal of the game. Shea Weber got the puck at the point, releasing a shot that was blocked in front. Fortunately, it deflected to the side where Tomas Tatar was waiting. With Korpisalo down to front Weber’s shot, he was in no position to challenge Tatar, and the winger simply tossed the puck into a vacated net to put his team up a goal on the road.
A slashing call to Oliver Bjorkstrand put Montreal on its first power play with a chance to extend the lead to two. As we’ve often seen this year, it didn’t lead to the desired result. But the Canadiens got another chance to play with an extra man right at the end of the first period, allowing a chance for them to begin the second on the right foot.
It may have actually been a hindrance to begin the middle frame on the power play. The Canadiens had been doing quite well coming out of the first intermission in recent weeks, especially with Brendan Gallagher on the ice, yet this time they were unable to get that early jump.
The Blue Jackets got their best chance on a power play of their own. Getting the puck right to the slot with a quick pass, a shot from point-blank range would have beaten many netminders in the league, but not a fully dialed-in Price. He calmly stopped the puck and awaited the next chance like nothing notable had happened.
Not long after that save, the Canadiens finally gained possession of the puck, and Phillip Danault sent it ahead for Tatar. Tatar had to take it with his hand, and then tried to corral it the whole way along his path to the net, but he finally wrested control, and sent it straight up to the top of the net for his second of the contest.
With a two-goal lead, Jonathan Drouin decided to increase the degree of difficulty for his goaltender with a backhand pass in the neutral zone that was easily picked off, creating a 2-on-1. Seth Jones moved the puck over to Alexander Wennberg, but Price had plenty of time to adjust to the new puck-carrier, and shut that chance down as well, even if it wasn’t a clean grab of the puck.
Another bobble from the goaltender in an otherwise steady performance did lead to more of an issue. Five minutes into the third, he stopped Riley Nash’s initial shot, and was even able to get his stick on the rebound to rein it in, but ended up mishandling it a second time for Oliver Bjorkstrand to get ahold of it. The Dane was able put his team on the board and get his one-cannon salute.
With the goal, the Canadiens responded on their next few shifts with a bit of urgency, getting some of the best possessions of the game while trying to restore a two-goal lead. The offensive shift allowed a breakaway for Columbus forward Ryan Murray, but Price calmly blockered the puck to the corner.
After Tatar had his shot at the hat trick, the Habs settled into a more defensive mindset, hanging on until the final minutes when John Tortorella decided to call his netminder to join him on the bench. Korpisalo didn’t make it all the way there before Joel Armia received the puck and put it into the net with no one in position to defend it.
Down two goals, the Blue Jackets tried it again, and Armia doubled his goal total on the night with a second easy tally, securing the 4-1 win.
The Canadiens headed home right after the game — a fourth consecutive win — hoping to beat a snowstorm to Montreal in preparation for the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. The Habs will try to make it five in a row before enjoying a sequence of days off ahead of their next game on Wednesday night.