Montreal, QC (SportsNetwork.com) - Max Pacioretty scored twice in the first period and Carey Price stopped 31 pucks, as Montreal claimed a 3-1 decision against Columbus at Bell Centre.
Tomas Plekanec picked up a late tally for the Canadiens, who had lost two in a row. Montreal assumed the top spot in the Eastern Conference by one point (81-80) over the Islanders, who lost in a shootout earlier Saturday in Washington.
"We got two early in the game but we knew we weren't going to take any chances on the defensive side. We tightened things up in the second and third," Pacioretty said.
Nick Foligno supplied the lone offense for the Blue Jackets, who fell to 2-2 on their five-game road swing. Curtis McElhinney made 21 saves in defeat.
The Blue Jackets were up a man with 1:44 remaining when Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov flipped the puck into the stands and was given a delay-of-game minor.
Shortly thereafter, McElhinney was called to the bench for an extra attacker but the strategy backfired as Plekanec provided the insurance marker with 49.5 seconds remaining.
"It's always tough losing close games. We had some chances for sure, but he (Price) made some great saves," noted Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen.
Pacioretty pumped home a power-play goal from the right circle just 2:29 into the contest and doubled the Habs' edge at 13:03 with another one-timer from near the same spot off a Nathan Beaulieu cross-ice pass.
Columbus got on the board when Foligno crashed the net and an Artem Anisimov rebound caromed off his stick and slowly slid over the goal line at 14:05.
Price ensured the one-goal margin stood by stopping 12 shots in a scoreless second period.
Pacioretty has claimed four multi-goal games this season ... Columbus forward Scott Hartnell's point streak was halted at eight games ... The Habs scratched forward Alex Galchenyuk with a case of the flu.