MONTREAL - Curtis Sanford signed with the Columbus last summer thinking he would be the backup to starting goaltender Steve Mason.
Now that he's got a chance to play, the 32 year old has shown he belongs in the Blue Jackets' net.
Sanford stopped all three shots in a shootout to improve his record to 5-3-2 since taking over as the starter 10 games ago as the last-place Blue Jackets downed the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 on Tuesday night.
And he did it against his former team, although Sanford spent the last two seasons in the Canadiens organization almost entirely with Hamilton in the American Hockey League and never played an NHL game for Montreal.
''I never got an opportunity in Montreal, but I have no ill feelings about that organization,'' the Owen Sound, Ont., native said. ''It's such a classy organization.
''I enjoyed both years in Hamilton. But I moved on and now I'm getting an opportunity to play and I'm enjoying it.''
Rick Nash had the only goal in the shootout as he put a deke on Carey Price and then used his long reach to tuck the puck in.
Montreal, which is 1-4 in shootouts this season, salvaged a point when Brian Gionta scored with 1:21 left in the third period to send the game into overtime. Andrei Kostitsyn had the other goal for Montreal (11-11-6), which has only one victory in its last six games.
Vaclav Prospal and R.J. Umberger also scored for Columbus (8-16-3), who are now 3-9-2 on the road. They went 2-2-0 on a four-game trip in Canada.
Injuries to key players and an eight-game suspension to defenceman James Wisniewski had much to do with the Blue Jackets' 2-12-1 start to the season, but they have picked it up of late, going 6-4-2 in their last 12.
Sanford went in for the injured Mason just as the team started to turn things around with an overtime loss Nov. 17 in Boston. Even when Mason returned, coach Scott Arniel stuck with Sanford.
''A big thing is we're playing well,'' the goaltender said. ''It's really night and day from earlier in the year.
''There were a lot of mistakes out there. We were trying almost to hard. Now we're working together. The chemistry's there now. It's paying off for us now.''
He had no chance on the tying goal as Tomas Plekanec's pass hit Wisniewski's skate in front and Canadiens captain Gionta was there to push it into an open side of the net.
The Bell Centre crowd of 21,273 booed through much of a uneventful game in which the Blue Jackets played solid defence and the Canadiens looked sluggish and disjointed in their first game back from a three-game trip to the west coast.
Montreal coach Jacques Martin said there was too much individual play and not enough teamwork. Defenceman Josh Gorges agreed.
''When we get spread out, we try to make individual plays, we try to be cute, we turn pucks over and we end up playing in our zone,'' said Gorges. ''When you do that early, you tend to be hesitant and you don't trust each other as much and you play that spread out game. That's what happened.''
The Blue Jackets took advantage to take a 7-1 shots lead and score the first goal.
A bad line change left Prospal alone in front to put the rebound of Aaron Johnson's shot into an open side 2:03 into the game.
Montreal tied it with two seconds left in the opening period as Michael Cammalleri batted down a clearing attempt and sent Kostitsyn in alone to beat Sanford with his third goal in the last four games.
There was more Columbus domination in the second period and Umberger made it 2-1 when Samuel Pahlsson won a faceoff and Nikita Nikitin hit the big winger with a stretch pass to the far blue-line behind Yannick Weber. Umberger went in alone and beat Price at 11:14.
It was another case of the Canadiens playing poorly against a team they are expected to beat after playing well against stronger teams like Boston and Pittsburgh. That up-and-down play leaves them where they are ??? a .500 team that is out of a playoff position.
''That's the difference between a great team and an average team,'' Gorges said. ''The great teams that do well throughout the season are consistenty good.
''You're going to have an off night now and then. That's hockey. But we have to find a way to be consistent, whether we're playing a top team or a low ranked team. We have to come with the same intensity, and until we do that we're going to put oursleves in trouble.''
Price noted that the Canadiens tend to play up or down to their opponent.
''Pittsburgh rolls in and they scare the crap out of us, so we play good,'' he said. ''But we face a team that's in the cellar and maybe we feel overconfident and we might not have that same scaredness and don't come out with the same intensity.''
The Jackets outshot the Canadiens 28-20 in regulation and overtime.
Columbus is 5-3-3 all-time against Montreal.
The Blue Jackets begin a five-game homestand against Nashville on Thursday night, when Montreal will play host to Vancouver.
Notes _ Jackets F Derick Brassard, rumoured to be on the trade market, was a healthy scratch for the eighth time since Nov. 12. John Moore and Cody Bass also didn't dress. . . Montreal's Max Pacioretty returned from his three-game suspension for a head hit on Kris Letang but was not a factor with only one shot on goal. Rookie D Frederic St-Denis was bumped from the lineup.