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Johansen, strong finish have Blue Jackets optimistic

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets are hopeful their strong finish to the 2014-15 season will translate into a Stanley Cup Playoff berth this season.

The Blue Jackets finished nine points back of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference after their season-ending, 13-game point streak (12-0-1), but it left them eager to get back on the ice in October.

Here are four reasons the Blue Jackets are optimistic:

That winning feeling: Sure, Columbus has made the playoffs twice in its history, including 2013-14, but the core group that has been around the past three seasons has finished better than .500 in each of them.

"That's a huge thing," captain Nick Foligno said. "You look at the championship teams. They've grown together as the years have gone by.

"If we continue this mentality we have, and the understanding we're a real good team and come in here ready to take the next step, there's no reason why we aren't a Stanley Cup-contending team."

The Blue Jackets also have confidence they can finish strong. They are a combined 21-6-2 in April the past four seasons.

Even though the Blue Jackets were out of playoff contention the final month, their opponents weren't. During the point streak, which is a Columbus record, they went 8-0-1 against eventual playoff qualifiers, who were either fighting to make the postseason or seeking better seeding.

Ryan Johansen continues his ascent: The 23-year-old last season increased his points total by eight to 71 (26 goals, 45 assists) from the previous season and played in the 2015 NHL All-Star Game in Columbus.

Not bad for a player who missed the preseason because of a contract dispute. Johansen played all 82 games for a second straight season. He finished 16 points behind NHL scoring champion Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars but feels he can challenge for the top spot.

"With a little more work and a little more consistency in my game, I feel 100 percent I can be up there with those guys," Johansen said.

He may get the chance with the addition of left wing Brandon Saad (23-29-52 in 82 games last season) from the Chicago Blackhawks. Add Foligno, the Blue Jackets' leading scorer last season with 31 goals and 73 points, and the potential is there for a powerhouse line.

"I just want to go in and be myself," Saad said. "I'm going in to be a part of a team and I'm excited to join a team of young talent."

Net gain: Bad news, NHL. Sergei Bobrovsky, according to Blue Jackets goaltending coach Ian Clark, is "bigger, faster, stronger."

After winning the Vezina Trophy in 2013, Bobrovsky has been saddled with injuries the past two seasons, particularly to his groin.

Clark and Bobrovsky have devised a different offseason conditioning program and planned adjustments in his in-season routine.

"We all know how hard a worker he is," Clark said. "Some of that was he was working so hard he was exhausted."

In 18 games after returning from a groin injury in early March, Bobrovsky went 14-2-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Brandon Dubinsky and Boone Jenner: Each missed considerable time because of injuries last season (Dubinsky, 35 games; Jenner, 51). When they were in the same lineup last season, the Blue Jackets were 11-0-2.

Dubinsky has a reason Columbus failed to make the playoffs.

"There were a lot of inconsistencies, whether it was a losing streak and not being mentally strong enough to find a way out of it," he said. "Or, to not preparing the right way for the next game to find a way to get two points. We need to change that."

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