Young Blue Jackets poised for bright future
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In just their second appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets went toe to toe with the much more established Penguins.
Columbus bowed out Monday in a 4-3 loss but had opportunities to tie the score after trailing 4-0 with 10 minutes left.
While many thought the Penguins, who swept the season series over the Blue Jackets, would easily win the series, all six contests came down to a single goal sans an empty-netter on Saturday.
Despite the disappointment in Columbus after Monday's loss, the crowd of over 19,000 immediately cheered for Columbus by chanting “CBJ” as the teams finished the handshake line. The thought from those in the Columbus locker room following the game was that this year's playoff appearance is just a start.
“We had our backs against the wall and had a tough 40 minutes the first two periods, but like this team has been all year, we were relentless,” said Jackets forward Ryan Johansen, who had six points in the series. “We never quit.”
Only three players remain from Columbus' last playoff appearance in 2009 when the Detroit Red Wings swept the Blue Jackets in four games. The Blue Jackets have the youngest roster in the NHL.
The Blue Jackets energized a sleepy hockey community in Columbus that ranked No. 27 in attendance in the NHL. The squad attracted three partisan playoff crowds with fans lining up Sunday for discounted tickets to Monday's game that weren't released until two hours before faceoff.
Fans had a reason to be excited. Columbus had its best regular season in club history with 43 wins, leading the Jackets to their second playoff appearance in 14 years as a franchise.
“We have said it all along, these fans have been hungry for a great team,” Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “That is going to give them excitement, but it is an empty feeling in this locker room. We believe we had more. We believe we could have won this series.”
While Columbus put together its best season in club history, the bar inside the locker room was set higher than a first-round appearance in the playoffs, said Dubinsky.
“I am sure we will reflect and take some positives out of the season, but we will do that (later),” he said.
Games 2 and 4 were special for the Jackets. Game 2 marked Columbus' first ever playoff victory, a 4-3 double-overtime thriller. In Game 4, Columbus rallied from down three goals to win its first ever home playoff contest, 4-3.
Columbus had a lead or won every contest against the Penguins until Game 6.
“Maybe get a few nights and reflect (on what we have accomplished), but right now it is a bit of a sour taste in our mouths,” Jackets forward Mark Letestu said. “We had a chance to win every game in the series. It just didn't go our way, I am sure there will be lessons learned.”
The Blue Jackets dealt with their share of injuries during the series. Fedor Tyutin and Nick Foligno missed games early in the series. Plum native R.J. Umberger and defender Nikita Nikitin sat out Monday's game. Jackets forward Nathan Horton missed the entire series
Justin Boggs is a freelance writer.