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Blue Jackets say making playoffs not good enough

Eliminated in first round, Columbus shooting for greatness next season

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Coach John Tortorella had a message Saturday for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday.

"Good is the enemy of great," he said at Nationwide Arena.

Good is setting Blue Jackets record for wins (50) and points (108) in a season, something they did in 2016-17 while reaching the playoffs for the third time. 

Great is winning the Stanley Cup, something the Blue Jackets have never done and didn't come close to doing this season, which ended in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round.  

Tortorella won't settle for good.

"You can get really stuck in the mud and spin your wheels if you think you've found your way," Tortorella said. "We have so much more improvement to go through, and it's going to be the toughest part of it. We'll fight for our lives to get into the playoffs next year. That's how this League is. Teams are going to be better."

Columbus finished third in the Metropolitan Division at 50-24-8, the fourth-best record in the NHL, but won only one game in the series. In three playoff appearances, the Blue Jackets have never made it past the first round. 

"It's tough to not be playing still," center Brandon Dubinsky said. "In that sense, it's a failure but at the same time our team got a lot better this year."

The Blue Jackets qualified for the playoffs in 2009 and 2014 but have never made it in consecutive seasons, a fact that has already become a motivational tool for next season.

"We're not going to be a one-and-done team and they just say, 'Ah, they got lucky that year,' " defenseman Seth Jones said. "We're going to the postseason every year. That's our goal. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup every single year. It's not a success unless you win the Stanley Cup and that's what everyone wants to do."

Tortorella made it clear to his players that it won't be easy. 

"It's going to be more difficult, because it takes more layers of skin," said Tortorella, whose Blue Jackets went 34-40-8 in 2015-16, finishing second to last in the East. "It takes more layers of mental toughness. Listen, I'm thrilled we had an opportunity to play in the playoffs after last year coming into this year. I'm not trying to rain on that. But when you get there … I just don't want to play five games. The toughest part is coming."

The Blue Jackets are confident in their future because they are one of the youngest teams in the NHL, led by 19-year-old defenseman Zach Werenski, a finalist for the Calder Trophy, given to the best rookie in the League.

"We're real young," Jones said. "Sometimes we even joke in the locker room that we're still on a junior team. You've got 10, 11 guys under 23."

Playing a series against the defending champion Penguins was invaluable in setting Columbus up for future playoff runs, captain Nick Foligno said.

"We've really just been a team that's just trying to get to the playoffs," he said. "Now the mindset is how are we going to stay, how are we going to do well, how are we going to win. What I'm most excited about is the growth and the mentality."

Scott Hartnell, at 35 the oldest player on the Blue Jackets, gave an emotional talk after Game 5 in Pittsburgh.

He told his teammates, especially the young ones, to not take playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for granted.

"You can't always say there's next year," he said. "The next thing you know, you wake up and you are 35 like me and in the twilight of your career. Lots of these guys are 20, 22, 23 years old and if you say, 'Oh, there's next year, there's next year,' you are going to be in the same boat and have wasted a few chances at winning the Stanley Cup."

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