COLUMBUS -- Through the disappointment, the dejection, a crushing season-ending shutout loss, there was reality setting in for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Their offseason arrived in a harsh way Monday with a 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at Nationwide Arena. One question looms:
What happens now?
[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forwards Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel are pending unrestricted free agents who played in Game 6.
They're all in Columbus now because the Blue Jackets wanted to push to win the Stanley Cup this season. It's why they retained Bobrovsky and Panarin and acquired Duchene and Dzingel along with defenseman Adam McQuaid and goalie Keith Kinkaid before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline.
They're all potentially leaving to play elsewhere next season.
Video: BOS@CBJ, Gm6: Bobrovsky's big save on 2-on-0 chance
Bobrovsky was already talking in past tense about his time in Columbus.
"I'm definitely thankful for everything I had here," the goalie said. "I won my two Vezinas here. Right now we talk after losing in the second round against a very good team. When I just came onto the team we were just pushing, we were happy if we just made playoffs. Fans were with us all the way. I think the hockey is growing here in Columbus. It is fun to watch and it was fun to be part of."
Is Bobrovsky suggesting he's not coming back?
"It's too early to speak about my future, we just lost a game," Bobrovsky said. "Obviously I have to weigh everything, every opportunity. I have to speak with my people to scale everything and make a decision. It's a big decision. It's a lifetime decision and I don't want to stand here and discuss about that right now after we lose the big game."
Panarin similarly did not have anything definitive to say about his future when asked if he wants to return to Columbus.
"Nobody knows," the left wing said. "I appreciate fans, the organization for these wonderful two years."
Video: Big offseason lies ahead for the Blue Jackets
The disappointment in the Blue Jackets locker room was there both because of the loss and the emotion that comes with the players realizing the opportunity they thought they had to have a special season was gone, and because of the uncertainty to come.
"It just [stinks]," defenseman Seth Jones said.
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno tried to maintain some semblance of optimism by talking about hope, about how maybe what the Blue Jackets accomplished this season can be a convincing argument to anybody wondering if Columbus is right for them.
Columbus won seven of its last eight games to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, swept the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and pushed the Bruins to six games in the second round.
Foligno said it has to be considered a growth spurt season for an organization that had previously never played a game in May.
"I think people see what we're doing here, other players," Foligno said. "We're hoping people want to be a part of this. This is a pretty special group."
Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he shouldn't have to convince anybody to want to be in Columbus.
"We have a good team, we have a great city, we have great ownership," Kekalainen said. "I think that should convince anybody to want to stay. We have a winning team and I think we can really build on something here. If that's not enough then I don't know what is."
Kekalainen indicated there will be conversations with the pending UFAs in exit interviews this week. After that, he said they'll have a better idea where players like Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel stand.
Video: BOS@CBJ, Gm3: Duchene doubles lead with PPG
"It's never been about money," Kekalainen said. "There's been all kinds of speculation about that. It's not about money, it's about whether you want to be a Blue Jackets player and live in the city of Columbus for the foreseeable future, whatever the length of contract may be. We're going to have those types of players on our team, that want to be here, want to be Blue Jackets and are proud to be in Columbus."
One thing Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets don't have as they go into the offseason are regrets, not about how they played against the Bruins or going all-in at the trade deadline.
"I'd do it again in a second," Kekalainen said. "Absolutely. One hundred percent. We showed everybody that we had a chance to win and beat anybody in this League with this team we had."
"Guys that want to be here are going to be here," Kekalainen said, "and guys that don't want to be here, you know, good luck."