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The battered Habs were back in action on Monday as their latest stop was in Columbus. Here, they faced a Blue Jackets team that could not afford to let this game slip. Columbus currently holds the last playoff spot, so a loss against the lowly Canadiens was not an acceptable outcome for John Tortorella’s troops. Charlie Lindgren was back between the pipes and had a big challenge ahead as he faced off with Sergei Bobrovsky. The outcome was therefore not surprising as the Montreal simply could not keep up with the Columbus forecheck and it resulted in many cannon shots from Nationwide Arena as the Habs dropped another contest, this time with a final score of 5-2 although they did put forth a commendable effort to get back in the game in the third period.

The game opened with a hungry Habs team as 34 seconds in, Jeff Petry was able to intercept a zone clearing attempt by Pierre-Luc Dubois. Petry sent an innocent looking shot toward the net that Brendan Gallagher skillfully deflected to the back of the net for his 25th goal of the season. The goal energized the Canadiens as they really dictated the pace for the opening five minutes of play. Despite this great play, their lead would not last long as Nick Foligno would tie the game with 15:44 to go in the period. The goal came gift-wrapped from Jordie Benn as the defenceman made a ridiculously soft pass up the middle that was intercepted by Foligno. When Foligno attempted to centre a pass, it went off Benn’s stick, then Benn tried to clear the crease. His clearing attempt went off Jacob de la Rose and slid through Lindgren’s five-hole.

The Blue Jackets would really take control after the goal, forcing Montreal into a series of icing calls that would eventually end with Petry tripping Dubois for the first penalty of the game. Luckily for the Columbus power play that isn’t very good, they were facing the Habs’ road penalty kill on this night. 39 seconds into the man advantage, Cam Atkinson dropped a pass to the middle of the blueline where Seth Jones released a one-timer that went through de la Rose and Lindgren for a Columbus lead with 12:09 remaining in the period.

The Habs battled hard over the next six minutes but saw Bobrovsky turn away good scoring chances from Paul Byron and Petry. With 6:30 to play, Nicolas Deslauriers took a tripping penalty off a defensive zone faceoff. Once again, the power play took about 30 seconds to get on the board as Jones once again got a shot off from the blueline, this time a wrister that got by de la Rose and Lindgren for a 3-1 lead. With two minutes to play, Brett Lernout intercepted a breakout attempt to create a Jonathan Drouin scoring chance but the ensuing Montreal power play fell completely flat as the score remained unchanged at period’s end.

The Habs opened the second period as strongly as the first as Nikita Scherbak grabbed a puck at the top of the offensive zone circle, out-waited Bobrovsky and sent the puck to the front of the net where linemates Andrew Shaw and Artturi Lehkonen missed two wide-open nets. Credit to Zach Werenski on the play for getting in the way, but these misses are unacceptable at the NHL level. The Habs would pay for not bearing down and finishing easy plays.

A minute after the Scherbak play, Columbus broke into the offensive zone with Lernout and Benn covering the two guys they were supposed to. De la Rose did not keep up with Boone Jenner, who tipped a pass toward Lindgren who was cheating on the cross-ice feed. This resulted in a juicy rebound that Jenner easily put home for a 4-1 lead.

The next ten minutes was spent mostly in the Montreal zone, with the Habs putting together a few good pushes that lacked offensive imagination to truly appear threatening. After Lindgren spent the better part of the ten minutes making acrobatic saves to keep the score respectable, his teammates finally helped him out. With four minutes left in the period, Gallagher lost a faceoff, but Byron blocked the point shot and sent a long bomb to Drouin who took off on a breakaway and put a slick move on Bobrovsky to cut into the lead. A few minutes later, an errant pass by Logan Shaw resulted in an odd-man rush for Columbus that led to a Daniel Carr penalty for being strong on his stick against Dubois. Luckily for the official, the Habs would finally survive a Columbus man advantage, and the period ended with a 4-2 score.

The Habs once again came out strong to start the third period as Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk (who was not having a great game up to that point), and Noah Juulsen made their marks early in the period. Deslauriers was inspired by the play of the uncontested leader of this current team (Gallagher) and forechecked hard to create a glorious chance for Carr who was unable to beat Bobrovsky who appeared to be down and out on the play.

With 11:26 to play, Columbus took a penalty for too many men on the ice, opening the door for the Habs to get back in the game. The power play understood the situation and played accordingly. A Mike Reilly shot created a good rebound chance for Andrew Shaw, that forced Bobrovsky to get sneaky as he was lucky to not get called when he purposely knocked his net off their moorings. On the next shift, it was Galchenyuk’s turn to be frustrated by the Jackets netminder. The offensive imagination shown by Reilly was a thing of beauty on this man advantage, even if it ultimately was unsuccessful. The lack of opportunism would finally bite the Habs as two defensive zone giveaways by de la Rose on the same shift finally led to an Ian Cole wrist shot from the top of the circle that Lindgren should have stopped, but ultimately spelled the end of the night for the Canadiens.

HabsWorld Habs 3 Stars of the Night

1st Star – Brendan Gallagher

Gallagher scored his 25th goal of the year, as he continues to top career highs. More importantly, he is the metronome of this team through his regularity in production and work ethic. If the Habs really do decide to move Max Pacioretty at season’s end and Gallagher does not get that letter, it would certainly be a shame. What a heart this player has.

Stats: 1 goal, +2 rating, 2 shots, 1 hit, 18:09 T.O.I.

2nd Star – Mike Reilly

Reilly continues to be half of the most reliable duo on the Montreal blueline with Jeff Petry. This star could have gone to Petry who also played well on this night. I opted for Reilly because of the power play shift in the third period that showed excellent creativity offensively and shows that his potential may yet exceed what we’ve seen so far.

Stats: No points, +2 rating, 3 shots, 22:42 T.O.I. (No hits but many good defensive plays with his stick)

3rd Star – Jonathan Drouin

Despite the season he’s having, and the situation the Habs are currently facing, I thought Drouin’s effort on the night was much improved over the games from last week. He was rewarded with a goal and a few more chances that could have gone his way. If management can make room for him to return to the wing next season and he plays consistently with the effort seen tonight, there’s no reason to throw in the towel on this kid just yet.

Stats: 1 goal, +2 rating, 2 shots, 17:05 T.O.I.

Honourable Mention – Daniel Carr (and Nicolas Deslauriers)

If the Canadiens made a strong push to get back in the game in the third period, it’s thanks in large part to Carr and Deslauriers. While he worked tirelessly to get the team closer, Carr made some good plays with and without the puck to make it happen.

Stats: No points, 0 rating, 2 shots, 11:16 T.O.I.