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Blue Jackets in playoffs, ready to take 'next step'

by Steve Hunt

DALLAS -- The atmosphere in the visitors' locker room at American Airlines Center following the Columbus Blue Jackets' playoff-clinching 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday night would best be described as festive yet subdued.

Sure, the Blue Jackets were ecstatic about making the playoffs for the second time in their history, but Columbus, which still has games remaining at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and the Florida Panthers on Sunday, knows that clinching a spot in the postseason is only the beginning.

For starters, with 91 points, Columbus is tied with the Philadelphia Flyers in the race for third place in the Metropolitan Division; the Flyers have a game in hand. The Blue Jackets are focused on improving their playoff positioning over their final two regular-season games.

"It's a great feeling," Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky said of clinching. "You play this game for the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup, and we've made the first step towards doing that. Only 16 teams make the dance, and we're one of those. Sky's the limit for this group, and I think that should be our goal, and that will remain our goal, and we got to get in there on a high note and make sure when we get there that we're on top of our game."

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards echoed the sentiments of his players in being elated about punching their ticket into the playoffs, but he too knows the work is only beginning if they are to experience postseason success for the first time in Columbus history.

"Again, it's a great accomplishment for these guys and where they've been, where we were at a year ago in the organization," Richards said. "It's a huge step for our organization, but to me it's just a step, and we're ready to try to take the next step."

Right wing Jared Boll, the longest-tenured Columbus player, is one of several players remaining from the Blue Jackets' only previous trip to the playoffs, which came in 2009 when they were swept in the Western Conference Quarterfinals by the Detroit Red Wings.

Given what Boll, who has been with the Blue Jackets since 2007, has experienced during much of his time in Columbus, it's safe to say he's happy to get another crack at the postseason.

"The first time we made it was awesome. The atmosphere was something like I've never seen it," Boll said. "Just really excited, like I said, for the organization, really excited for the fans in Columbus to get another playoff run here, and hopefully we can stay in it and go far."

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