Give the Blue Jackets their due - for most of this game, they hung in against the best team in the Eastern Conference - and arguably the best in the entire league - and didn't look out of place.
It didn't look that way at first - it seemed like the strains of "O Canada" had barely faded from the Bell Center PA when Montreal's fourth line broke out of their own zone, with Christian Thomas setting up Paul Byron with a perfect feed after he crossed up Kevin Connaton and snapped a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky on just the third shot of the game.
Despite that early letdown, the Jackets did a good job of re-establishing their game, complete with a hard physical presence, and as the first period wound down, things were starting to fall into place,
That was cemented with just a bit more than two and a half minutes to go when Ryan Johansen won a faceoff in the Canadiens offensive zone, then put the puck back to the end boards, where Nick Foligno muscled his way past both P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov to make a wrap-around past Mike Condin to tie things back up.
For a brief moment, it was a brand new game, but things quickly took on another pallor entirely when Alexei Emelin decided to nail Matt Calvert with a nasty elbow to the head well away from the puck, knocking him to the ice. Once play was stopped, Calvert would remain down for several minutes while medical staff from both teams evaluated him, while Emelin was issued a major for interference and ejected from the game. Don't be surprised if Player Safety takes interest in this one - it was a fairly nasty hit that had nothing to do with the play on the ice.
Unfortunately, the Columbus power play couldn't generate anything in the tail end of the first period, nor could they finish in the early second, though Cam Atkinson and Brandojn Dubinsky both had some solid looks on the shift following the end of the man advantage.
The second period was a choppy, uneven affair for both teams, fought more in the neutral zone and along the far walls than in front of either netminder, but an impressive scrap between Foligno and Nathan Beaulieu after the Habs took exception to a hard but clean hit handed out by the Jackets' captain did provide some fire for both benches.
The third period was more of the same, though the ice did seem a bit more tilted in Montreal's favor, with the most notable chances both coming off the stick of Brandon Saad...and both going wide of a gaping net.
Things seemed headed in the general direction of overtime as the clock ticked down, but then things changed dramatically when Scott Hartnell was called for a tripping call with just over two minutes to go in the frame.
Hartnell's gaffe put the Jackets on the PK, and just as Folingo put his team on his back earlier, Montreal captain Max Pacioretty did the same for his squad. Helping to establish a quick cycle off the faceoff, Pacioretty broke free of Matt Calvert and found clear space in the slot, picking up a pass from Dale Weise and burying it despite Calvert attempting to dive into the lane for a pokecheck.
The Blue Jackets tried to find a tying goal to force OT, but there simply wasn't enough time on the clock to make it happen, and the Canadiens kept enough pressure on that the Jackets couldn't pull Bob for an extra attacker until it was well into the final minute of play.
There's really no better way to sum this one up than what Torts offered in his post game presser: "We played well enough to win tonight, and still found a way to lose."
This was a hard one to swallow, but the good news is that the team will get a chance to wash the sour taste out of their mouths on Friday against the Panthers at home. Here's hoping we see the same level of effort - and a better result.