Max Pacioretty scored twice in the first period and that was all the offence the Canadiens would need en route to a 3-1 victory over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. Tomas Plekanec added an empty-netter shorthanded in the game's final minute.
"Tonight, with two early, you're not going to take many chances for the rest of the game," said Pacioretty, who scored his team-leading 28th and 29th goals of the season. "We were able to play a sound defensive game. That's what it takes to win."
The Habs came into the game struggling to find the back of the net having scored just two goals in each of their previous four games. It appeared to be a thing of the past when Pacioretty gave the home team a two-goal lead after 13 minutes.
Montreal's 13-shot first period, however, was their most productive offensively. The team turned to its defence and to Carey Price in the second and third periods to hold on to the slim advantage.
The Canadiens (38-16-5) neutralized Columbus' four power plays, forcing the visiting team to take shots from the perimeter, and blocked shots consistently throughout the game. Montreal blocked 30 shots in total, including six each by Nathan Beaulieu and Tom Gilbert.
And when Columbus (26-28-3) had quality scoring chances, Price stood tall. The Canadiens goaltender made 31 saves for his 33rd victory of the season. Curtis McElhinney made 21 saves for the Blue Jackets in defeat.
"Tonight was a win where everyone contributed in their own way," said Michel Therrien. "Our start to the game was very good, and that allowed us to win it. After that, we handled our lead well. And we had a couple of breaks, too."
Montreal, which avoided its first three-game winless run since early December, is 32-3-1 when its opponents score two or fewer goals.
Pacioretty scored his first on the power play at 2:29 of the first period. The goal was Montreal's second with the man advantage in its last eight games.
The 26-year-old added his second of the game at 13:03 to put the Canadiens up 2-0, one-timing home a feed by rookie defenceman Nathan Beaulieu. Pacioretty has four goals and two assists in his last four games.
"The difference tonight was all the call-ups," said Pacioretty of Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi, Greg Pateryn, Christian Thomas and Jacob De La Rose, who were all recently recalled from the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs due to various injuries on Montreal's roster. "They felt comfortable out there tonight. We're battling adversity, and they stepped up."
Columbus reduced the deficit when Nick Foligno beat Price at 14:05 of the first. That was all the Blue Jackets would get.
"We left the ice after the first period feeling we could get back to playing our game," said Columbus coach Todd Richards. "We had some good moments on the power play and created some momentum."
Still 2-1 late in the third, Andrei Markov gave the Blue Jackets hope when he took a two-minute minor for delay of game at 18:16, but Plekanec scored in the empty net for his third short-handed goal of the season.
The Habs and Blue Jackets meet again on Feb. 26 in Columbus, Ohio.
Notes: Alex Galchenyuk missed a second consecutive game with the flu. Alexei Emelin and Sergei Gonchar are both out with upper-body injuries. … Rookies Tinordi and Thomas both dropped the gloves against the Blue Jackets. Tinordi fought Jared Boll in the first period while Thomas fought Matt Calvert in the third.