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Jackets look forward to next year

by Mike G. Morreale
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Years from now, historians may look back on Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings as just another win for the defending Stanley Cup champion.

They would be wrong.

Despite a 6-5 loss to the Red Wings Thursday night that swept them out of the opening round in the first playoff series in franchise history, the Blue Jackets proved that the words "pride" and "passion" are a big part of their vocabulary.

To the delight of 18,889 fans at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits in the second period -- and, in the process, provided a glimpse of what the future holds.

Hockey in Columbus is here to stay.

"I think we made big strides this year and it's definitely exciting for next season," center R.J. Umberger said.

They stressed the importance of scoring the first goal, but when that didn't materialize, they turned the page and never looked back. It was as if players and fans regrouped to mount one last attack to cap one memorable season.

"The fans were great," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I was really proud of the fans because even when we were down 3-1 or 5-3, they weren't leaving us. The fans brought us back as much as the players brought us back. I saw significant impact of people in the building; how they can impact the team's fortunes. We got energy because of (the fans)."

The Blue Jackets overcame a 3-1 deficit with two goals early in the second period. But it looked like the Wings had put the Jackets away when Marian Hossa scored twice for a 5-3 lead.

Not quite.

Columbus' Kris Russell and Fredrik Modin scored 2:19 apart late in the period to pull the host team even again at 5-5. Johan Franzen's power-play goal with 46.6 seconds left in regulation gave the Wings the win. But after the final buzzer and the handshakes, the Jackets were saluted with a roaring ovation from the big crowd.

"I am completely proud," Umberger said. "It's been a fight all year and we overcame a lot. We achieved a lot and history was made. Right now, it's still too fresh. You hate to lose and it hurts but, tomorrow, we'll reflect on our season."

When Hitchcock looks back on the season, he'll remember how hard his team competed.

"We're not the most skilled team, but we got in the playoffs because we competed hard," Hitchcock said. "We have a lot of pieces in place that can grow and prosper in the League."

Those pieces include captain Rick Nash, who scored his first playoff goal to ignite the second-period surge, and rookie goalie Steve Mason, who made 14 of his 35 saves in the third period to give his team a fighter's chance.

Hitchcock sounded like someone who can't wait for next season to start.

"We will be better on paper," he said, "because our guys are a year better."

Contact Mike Morreale at

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