Habs visit Blue Jackets looking to extend division lead

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Montreal Canadiens hope to extend their lead atop the Atlantic Division when they take aim at a third straight win in Thursday's road clash against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Canadiens lead the division by three points over the idle Tampa Bay Lightning and enter tonight coming off consecutive wins. Montreal also has claimed a point in nine of its last 10 trips to the ice, going 7-1-2 during that stretch.

Thursday's tilt marks the second meeting between the Blue Jackets and Habs in less than a week. Montreal hosted Columbus last Saturday and notched a 3-1 win behind a two-goal performance from Max Pacioretty. The Canadiens can sweep the three-game season series with another win tonight.

Montreal is 4-1-1 in six all-time trips to Columbus. The Canadiens have won four of their last five away from home to boost their road record this season to 18-9-1.

After downing the Blue Jackets last weekend, the Habs posted a 5-2 win Tuesday night in St. Louis. Alex Galchenyuk, who had missed the previous two games due to flu-like symptoms, posted two goals and an assist to lead Montreal past the Blues.

Brendan Gallagher had two goals while Michael Bournival also scored for the Canadiens. Carey Price turned away 27 shots in the win.

"We're a very confident team when we go into an opposing team's building and we wind up playing the right way," Price said.

Price is expected to start again tonight and is 4-3-1 with a 2.48 goals against average in his career against Columbus.

The Blue Jackets have damaged their already slim playoff chances with a 0-2-1 slide that includes Tuesday's 4-2 home loss to the Buffalo Sabres, who are last in the NHL standings. Columbus sits 11 points out of a playoff spot in the East.

Michal Neuvirth made 45 saves to frustrate the Columbus offense, which received its only goals from Kevin Connauton and Matt Calvert after falling behind 2-0 in the opening period.

"The first two goals took some of the wind out of our sails," Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards said.

Columbus netminder Anton Forsberg remained winless in four career starts between the pipes. The 22-year-old rookie from Sweden allowed all four goals on 31 shots.

No. 1 netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is nearing a return from a groin injury, but Curtis McElhinney will start tonight with Oscar Dansk serving as the backup. Forsberg was reassigned to the Springfield Falcons of the American Hockey League.

Bobrovsky, meanwhile, remains day-to-day. He hasn't played since Jan. 21.

The Blue Jackets are playing the middle test of a three-game homestand tonight and will cap the stay at Nationwide Arena this Saturday against New Jersey. Columbus is 12-15-2 as the host this season.