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Blue Jackets thank fans for raucous playoff support

Team and city came together during postseason

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

John Tortorella wanted everyone to know. 

Before the Blue Jackets head coach answered questions from the media during last week's Exit Day, he wanted to deliver a message to the Columbus fan base. 

"I want to thank the community as far as just the incredible support that we have had here during the playoff run and quite honestly in the regular season when we were going up and down," he said. "I can't thank the community enough as far as what it did for our hockey club, what that building was like. 

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"I don't know how to put it except to say thank you. I know it's a bit of a letdown that we're not playing here. I do think Game 6 was our best game of the series and I wish we could be out there again with the group, with our community here, but hopefully we'll keep on building and have more nights like that. 

"But it's just so much appreciated. I speak for my players, I speak for the organization and I speak for myself: It was just incredible, so thank you." 

Time will tell how those involved will remember this year's playoff run, in which the Blue Jackets swept a 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning team in the first round for the first series victory in franchise history. Columbus then waged a tight, tense back-and-forth series in the second round with Boston before dropping a 4-2 series final. 

For many, making franchise history will forever be a memory to be cherished, with nearly 20 years of frustration when the final horn went off in the Game 4 victory against Tampa Bay. But nearly player on the team, plus Tortorella and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, was disappointed by bowing out in the second round with a team they felt could do further damage and perhaps go all the way. 

But one thing seems certain -- those involved, from the ones who did the skating to the 19,000-plus who filled Nationwide Arena with deafening noise for each of the five playoff home games, will fondly remember the bond between team and fans that developed. 

"I think how the fans showed up as they always have but especially in the playoffs, just a whole other level," veteran forward Cam Atkinson said. "I guarantee not one building out there are the fans like that. Very special. Very special place here." 

Columbus provided a team like never before and the fans responded like never before. Not only did the fans show up to Nationwide Arena, the whole city had Jackets fever, filling the plaza outside the building to watch games. More than 5,500 fans attended a team scrimmage held in the days after the series win vs. Tampa Bay, and more than 13,000 showed up to Nationwide to watch Game 5 of the Boston series -- when the game was held in Boston. 

On the television front, the city set a local ratings record, with NBC Sports announcing late last week that the Columbus market ranked fifth in the country for Stanley Cup ratings. The rating of 15.2 for Game 5 on NBC was the highest NHL delivery on record in Columbus. 

There were also stories of dedication, from superstitious fans wearing the same clothing items and jerseys to each game, to some leaving brooms in Nick Foligno's driveway after the Tampa sweep, to a few others visiting Tortorella's house to thank him in person (not a recommended method, for the record).  

"Guys really invested in the city and the fans and they invested in us back," Foligno said. "That marriage is what brings you and bonds you to this team." 

"Awesome stuff on twitter and social media," defenseman Zach Werenski added. "I think personally they're the best fans in the league and it really showed this playoffs." 

The display was impressive to a player like Matt Duchene, who admitted he didn't know much about the city or its fans when he arrived in a midseason trade from Ottawa. By the end of the season, he was effusive in his praise for the Jackets faithful.  

"Doing what we did was obviously big for the city of Columbus," Duchene said. "I can't say enough good things about the fans of the city getting behind us. I had a lot of people write to me. I don't usually read that stuff but I haven't been able to avoid it, it's been coming in so hot and so much. 

"It's been great, just the gratitude from the fans for our full team. It's something you don't see too often when you lose before you reach your goal. We're all very honored by that and very enthused for sure." 

For Kekalainen, the goal is to make such spectacles a yearly occurrence. While the Blue Jackets have four playoff appearances in the last six years, and each has been an event in Columbus, this spring proved just how much further the connection between city and team can go. 

"It gives me chills to think about the atmosphere in the rink," the general manager said. "It's a huge boost for everybody around the team to have that kind of support where people don't even sit down -- they pay good money for seats and they don't sit down the whole game. 

"That's so great. I want to see that again and I want to see that every year. I want to see that for the season opener, and I want to see that for the 40th home game of the regular season, and then I want to see it in the playoffs. It's awesome to see.  

"I've always said that this is a great sports city because of the tradition with football and everything, and we have to earn the respect to make this a great hockey city. I think we're well on our way." 

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