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Jackets Lose to Canadiens, 3-2

by Staff Writer / Columbus Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Michael Ryder and Saku Koivu each had a goal and an assist as the Montreal Canadiens beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Sunday night to end a season-worst six-game losing streak.

Francis Bouillon also scored for Montreal, which moved into a tie with Toronto for the eighth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens entered having dropped from fourth place to ninth in the standings behind an 8-17-1 record since Dec. 23.

Rookie Jaroslav Halak was vying to become the fourth Montreal goalie to register a shutout in his first NHL start until Columbus scored twice in a 3:03 span late in the third period on goals by Nikolai Zherdev and Gilbert Brule.

The Blue Jackets have lost six of their last eight games.

With Columbus trailing 3-0, Alexander Svitov -- stopped by the 21-year-old Halak on a breakaway earlier in the third period -- skated the length of the ice and dropped the puck to Zherdev, who beat Halak from the slot at 8:05. The goal was Zherdev's first since Jan. 6 and eighth of the season.

Brule pulled Columbus to 3-2, picking up rebound off the end boards and scoring with a snap shot from the slot with 8:52 remaining.

With goalie Pascal Leclaire pulled, Columbus pressured the final minute of the game with Dan Fritsche shooting the puck just wide from close range.

Halak, who was fundamentally strong early and cool under pressure late, was called up Friday from Hamilton of the AHL where he led the league with a 2.00 goals-against average. He took the roster spot of starter Cristobal Huet who was scheduled to undergo hamstring surgery on Sunday and will be sidelined indefinitely.

Neither team looked sharp in the first period, but Montreal broke through with three goals in the second period. Columbus didn't help its cause, giving the league's second-best power play three chances, not including one carried over from the opening frame.

On the man advantage and standing alone next to the left post, Ryder took pass from Koivu and found an open net for his 17th of the season and second in 12 games.

Less than a minute after a Columbus penalty expired, Koivu and Ryder connected again, this time on a 2-on-1 rush.

With Ryder carrying the puck down the right wing, Blue Jackets defenseman Anders Eriksson slipped trying to get back in position. Ryder then easily stepped around his partner Rostislav Klesla and slid a pass to Koivu, who beat Leclaire between the legs at 6:02. The goal was Koivu's 17th and first in 12 games.

Bouillon scored with a point shot through heavy traffic just 2:35 later to make it 3-0 with Columbus defensman Bryan Berard in the penalty box for hooking.

Game notes
The Canadiens were one more loss away from tying their longest slide since the 1939-40 season. ... Columbus finished 2-4 on a franchise-long six-game homestand. ... The game was the first in four years between the clubs. ... Halek is the third Slovakian goalie to play in an NHL game, following in the footsteps of Rastislav Stana and Peter Budaj.

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