MONTREAL (AP) -Pascal Leclaire put on a show for the 25 family members and friends who came to see him shine for the Columbus Blue Jackets among a sold-out Bell Centre crowd that honored Montreal general manager Bob Gainey's remarkable playing career.
Leclaire made 31 saves for his ninth shutout and Rick Nash and Andrew Murray scored first-period goals to lead Columbus to a 3-0 win over the Canadiens on Saturday night.
Leclaire, a native of the Montreal suburb of Repentigny, made his first appearance at the Bell Centre a successful one as he increased his league lead in shutouts over New York's Henrik Lundqvist, who is second with seven.
"I probably could have used more tickets but the credit card was full," Leclaire said. "It's tough here, a sold-out crowd and it was a special night."
It was Leclaire's 10th career shutout and first since Jan. 24 when he stopped 30 shots in a 1-0 win over Chicago.
"He's been the backbone of the team," said Nash, who scored his team-leading 33rd goal on Carey Price 6:24 in. "If we want to be successful we need him playing his best, and that's what he's been doing all season for us."
Murray made it 2-0 midway through the first and Manny Malhotra scored late in the third.
Columbus finished a 3-2 road trip with its second straight win in Canada, including a 3-2 win in Ottawa on Thursday.
"We beat two good teams here the last couple of days so it's a good sign," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're going to go back home probably three points out of a playoff spot, right in the hunt and hopefully we can keep going."
|Pascal Leclaire is congratulated by Adam Foote and Nikolai Zherdev after the Montreal-area native posted a shutout on his hometown ice. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ian Barrett)
Montreal, which retired Gainey's No. 23 in a pre-game ceremony, lost its second in a row following a four-game winning streak to fall three points behind Eastern Conference leaders Ottawa, which also leads the Northeast Division with 78 points.
Price stopped 19 shots.
"I could accept losing and goals against when teams are working for them, but when you give them away, it's a different thing," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said. "I've never seen a team shut down with no shots during a game, shots happen."
Carbonneau took part in the ceremony as a member of the team Gainey captained to a Stanley Cup win in 1986. Singled out for praise during Gainey's pre-game speech, Carbonneau acknowledged that he really wanted his team to deliver a winning effort on behalf of his former linemate.
"That's the thing I'm upset the most about," Carbonneau said.
Columbus center Sergei Fedorov left the game in the second period because of a leg injury and did not return.
After Blue Jackets right wing Jared Boll squared off in a spirited bout with Montreal's Tom Kostopoulos 5:57 into the game, Nash got his team-leading 33rd goal at 6:24.
"We're definitely a better team when we score the first goal so that helped us," Nash said. "They had some jump. It was lucky for us that we kind of took their fans out of it and kept them down a little bit."
Murray made it a two-goal lead at 10:01 with his fourth goal.
Montreal outshot Columbus 23-14 through the first two periods and Leclaire turned aside 11 shots in the first and 12 in the second.
Malhotra scored an unassisted goal with 3:18 remaining to seal the win for the Blue Jackets, who were 12th in the Western Conference through Friday, four points behind Vancouver for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Columbus, which joined the NHL in 2000-01, has failed to make the playoffs in each of its first six seasons in the league.