MONTREAL — The Canadiens’ never-say-die attitude was in full force against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Montreal scored twice in the third period before Jonathan Drouin netted the shootout winner in a 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Columbus on Tuesday.
The Canadiens now rank third in the league with 24 third-period goals.
“We came back after the second period after being down 1-0,” said coach Claude Julien. “I told the guys we have to stay focused. Not every game is going to be easy. Sometimes you need to scratch and claw to get those kind of wins.
“Right until the end, it could have gone the other way because they were playing that well.”
A frenetic final two minutes of the third period saw Columbus take a 2-1 lead only for Montreal to score the equalizer right after.
Defenceman Zach Werenski walked in from the blue line and put the Blue Jackets ahead with 1:53 left in the game on a beautiful shot into the top corner of the net.
Moments after Columbus (6-8-4) narrowly missed the empty net, Montreal took advantage of the extra skater when Nick Suzuki found Tomas Tatar open at the side of the goal with 41 seconds on the clock.
“It was definitely a bit draining to give up that goal in the last two minutes,” said the rookie Suzuki, who has seven points this season. “It took the crowd out of it. But it was a great comeback shift when we pulled the goalie.”
After the Jackets failed to take advantage of a power play in overtime, Drouin scored the shootout’s only goal while Carey Price stopped all three shooters. Price stopped 33-of-35 shots through regulation and overtime.
The Canadiens (10-5-3) have now won six of their last eight contests.
“We were not as sharp as we should be,” said Brendan Gallagher, who scored Montreal’s first goal. “We got Carey Price back in there and he was unbelievable tonight. It wasn’t our best but we found a way to get two points.
“Those are huge points at the end of the year.”
It was an electric goaltender battle on full display early on.
Price made three quick saves on a Columbus power play in the first period, including hard shots from Emil Bemstrom and Josh Anderson in the slot.
Blue Jackets backup Elvis Merzlikins, who was recalled from the AHL on Monday, was also in fine form in the first. Merzlikins made a reaction save on Gallagher’s redirection of Jeff Petry’s shot from the point.
The Blue Jackets rewarded their goalie with a lead just a few minutes later.
Eric Robinson, making his season debut for Columbus, beat Price with a shot between the pads at 16:46 for his first NHL goal. Price could not handle the initial shot by Werenski from the blue line.
The Canadiens fired 14 pucks on target, none too dangerous, in a dull second period.
As good as Merzlikins was after 40 minutes, the Blue Jackets netminder gifted the equalizer to Montreal early in the third.
Gallagher scored his team-leading eighth of the season at 3:27 with a fairly harmless shot from distance that went five-hole on Merzlikins.
The 25-year-old goalie, who began his career in the Swiss league, came into the encounter with an .882 save percentage after four games.
“I have to win games here,” said Merzlikins, who made 30 saves and dropped to 0-1-3. “I just can’t win a game. But it’s going to come. I got used to it now. I’m not that nervous or scared anymore. I’m more used to the games.
“I’m going to be happy when I’m going to bring the (winning) puck to my mom.”
Notes: The Jackets finished 0 for 3 with the man advantage. Shea Weber extended his point streak to four games. Nick Foligno was serving the first of a three-game suspension. This was the first of three meetings between Montreal and Columbus this year.