Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Blue Jackets only had Seth Jones for two periods. It turned out to be more than enough.
Jones was the driving force behind two first-period power-play goals, and Columbus won its fifth straight, 5-2 over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.
"We're taking it game by game even with this winning streak," said Alexander Wennberg, who tied a career high with four points on a goal and three assists. "We're playing good, we don't get too far ahead of ourselves. You just face the challenge."
Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Ian Cole also scored for Columbus.
Behind a run of eight wins in 11 games overall and a season-high six straight at home — including a just-completed four-game homestand — the Blue Jackets moved past idle New Jersey into the first wild-card position in the Eastern Conference. Columbus also edged within two points of third-place Philadelphia, its next opponent, in the Metropolitan Division.
"We've got a huge one coming up in Philly," Foligno said.
Jones sat out the third period with an upper-body injury, and Montreal suddenly put Sergei Bobrovsky to the test. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner stopped all 24 shots the suddenly energetic Canadiens threw his way. He had 38 saves overall.
"We lose Jonsey, which is a big part of or tempo and our transition," coach John Tortorella said. "You know it's going that way when we don't score our goals. We have a number of great chances to make it five. You know what the third period is going to be. They are going to take every chance they possibly can. But I still thought we were on our heels too much."
Tortorella said Jones pleaded his case to play in the third.
Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin scored for banged-up Montreal, which has lost five straight and has three wins in its past 16 games.
The Canadiens have been playing without Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and Shea Weber. Charlie Lindgren was weak on his glove side, finishing with 20 stops while battling traffic in front.
A bright spot for Montreal came early. Gallagher scored the fastest goal against Columbus this season to start a game, only 34 seconds in. He redirected a high shot alone at the crease for his team-leading 25th.
"The first shift, a turnover and they score it," Tortorella said. "It didn't affect us. We just kept on playing."
Columbus tallied the next three to close out the period.
Foligno countered four minutes later on a steal in the Canadiens' zone. His backdoor pass to Oliver Bjorkstrand ping-ponged off two Montreal players and skidded into the net.
Jones then helped add two more for the Blue Jackets, giving him four goals — three of them game-winners — and three assists in his last three games. He set up Wennberg's tip-in goal at 7:51 and scored his own at 14:03, his 14th this season. Jones' 48 points are three short of the franchise record for a blueliner, set in 2013-14 by James Wisniewski.
"I'd like to see our guys do a much better job when it comes to fronting pucks," Montreal coach Claude Julien said. "Lindy had a bit of a tough night, and your best penalty killer can also be your goaltender."
Early in the second period, not long after Zach Werenski saved a goal by swiping away the puck before it could cross the goal line, Jenner stuffed home his own rebound, the entire play nicely set up by Wennberg.
Drouin scored on a breakaway — spurned by a blocked shot — at 15:46 of the second with a backhander to pull the Canadiens within two.
Cole capped the scoring with a floating wrister with 2:19 left in the game.
"We just feel good about ourselves and the way we're playing hockey," Jenner said. "You can see tonight if we play the way we can, we can kind of dominate teams."
NOTES: Columbus scored its three first-period goals on its first seven shots. ... Jones has a goal in three straight games. He scored twice Friday against Detroit. ... The Canadiens dropped to 9-22-4 on the road. ... Montreal wrapped up its six-game trip with a 1-4-1 mark and allowed nine power-play goals.
Columbus: At Philadelphia on Thursday.
Montreal: Hosts Dallas on Tuesday.
More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey