It was a season of firsts for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The first playoff wins in franchise history, the first time Columbus had accumulated 93 points and the first time 11 Blue Jackets players took part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The "fifth line," as the sold-out Nationwide Arena crowd became known during the Stanley Cup playoffs, was united and rallied behind the Blue Jackets, but the harsh reality of the playoffs set in last night when Pittsburgh took the series 4-2 with a Game 6 win in Columbus.
Columbus posted a 1-2 record at Nationwide Arena during the series, but 19,000-plus screaming fans made for a raucous playoff atmosphere that no one is soon to forget.
“It was so much fun and that’s what you want to play in front of every night,” Blue Jackets forward R.J Umberger said. “You have to keep working, striving to give our fans the best we've got.”
Now that both team and fans have experienced a taste of playoff success, the jump to the next level becomes an expectation. Cam Atkinson, one of many young players in the organization to take a step forward in 2013-14, insisted that the team expected a lot more from themselves than a first round exit.
“It’s a stepping stone. We have a lot of high expectations for ourselves,” Atkinson said. “We have to start out strong next year. In the first half of our seasons, out starts haven’t been so great.”
A record of 17-19-3 in the first three months of play is hardly the record of a playoff team, but the Blue Jackets once again rallied in the second half and nearly snagged one of the top three spots in their new Metropolitan Division home.
Defenseman Jack Johnson, who was one of the first pieces of the Blue Jackets' build upon arriving via trade in 2012, was one of several players who emphasized the importance of getting off to a strong start next fall.
“It’s more mental than physical,” Johnson said. “I think you have to come in with the mentality of hitting the ground running as fast as possible. The bar is higher in the locker room than anywhere. The fans should expect a winner year in and year out.”