The Blue Jackets' 2016-17 campaign ended Thursday night in Pittsburgh, but while the sting of a season-ending loss still lingers, there are reasons to be excited for what comes next.
"(From the series against Pittsburgh,) I learned that we're a good team," head coach John Tortorella said. "I thought our guys had no fear. Playing against the Stanley Cup champ, a very good team, they had no fear and we put a ton of good minutes there.
"I'm proud of our club. I like a lot of things about our club. We have to lick our wounds and learn from some of the things that went on in this series. But I can't wait to get going again with them, quite honestly."
If this year is any indication, if this Jackets team puts in the same amount of work into next year, exciting things lie ahead.
The Jackets blew up expectations around the league this season. They were the second youngest team in the NHL and rung up a 50-win, 108-point campaign that included a 16-game win streak.
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"I'm proud of a lot of the guys. I'm proud of this team this year," Brandon Dubinsky said. "We have a lot of guys that played a few years whose games have grown, they've become better players. A lot of young guys got a taste of what it's like to play a full season in the NHL, and got a taste of the playoffs. It's going to make us better. Now, we have to take the next step, we have to grow."
Having returned to the post-season for the third time in franchise history, this is a Jackets unit that can now see what "the real games" look and feel like. They know what the goal is, and they are starting to learn what it will take to get there.
Video: Torts on his team's play in the series
"We wanted to play and win the Stanley Cup," Alexander Wennberg said. "You don't get many chances. This is a special group we have right here, so we need to learn from this series and every time we get the opportunity going forward, make the best of it.
"The group of guys we have is a great group and everyone is fighting for each other. If we get a chance, we're going to come back hungrier and better."
As the Jackets' locker room emptied after the conclusion of Game Five Thursday night, one could feel the emotions linger. Disappointment, expectation, resolve were all tangible. But that can be a powerful recipe for the important work that lies ahead.
"I've been in this league a long time," Dubinsky said. "We don't want to say next year anymore. The time is now. We have to step up and everybody has to accept the responsibility and we have to be better next year."