Series loss still a step forward for Columbus

COLUMBUS -- It seems longer than two weeks ago that this series began with 11 Blue Jackets playing in their first-ever NHL playoff game.

And while it was hard for the players in that room to equate this loss with anything other than bitter disappointment, it’s hard not to view this two-week journey as anything but a success for a franchise that knew almost nothing about playing at this level before this spring.

They erased a two-goal lead to win Game 2 in overtime, giving them their first playoff victory in franchise history. And then two games later they erased that 3-0 lead and won their first home playoff game on Nick Foligno's wrist shot.

“Yeah, it’s hard to leave the ice at the end of any year. You fall short of your goal. It’s tough no matter what. Even though we came close, close isn’t good enough. Doesn’t really make it any more satisfying. It’s pretty disheartening no matter what,” Jack Johnson told ESPN.com.

The defenseman was the team’s emotional heart and soul and he insisted that the bigger picture discussion is best left to others.

“I don’t think many guys in the room are pulling positives out of losing in the first round. That’s for people outside of this room. We’re a room that probably had higher expectations for ourselves than anyone. Sure we gave them all they could handle but that wasn’t good enough for us,” said Johnson, who had two assists Monday and finished the series with seven points.

Was it a case of fading in the final two games or merely not being able to take the steps forward that the Penguins delivered? Probably some of both.

But watching this team as it continued to push forward even after falling behind 3-0 Monday was a reminder of a Pittsburgh Penguins team in a similar spot in 2007.

The Penguins had made a surprise appearance in the postseason, collecting 105 points. They drew the then powerful Ottawa Senators. That series wasn’t as close as this one was -- the Senators won it in five games -- and we’re not suggesting Ryan Johansen is Sidney Crosby. But there is no reason to think that Johansen and rookie Boone Jenner, who had three goals in this series to tie for the team lead, and Ryan Murray and Matt Calvert and Foligno et al won’t remember this experience next spring, and the spring after that.

And there’s the challenge, no?

To prove that this wasn’t a one-hit wonder, that the fans in Columbus, who turned out in such enthusiastic numbers down the stretch and through the playoffs, won’t have to wait another four or five years to experience this again.

Still clad in full gear sitting at his dressing room stall with a Blue Jackets ball cap perched on his head, Johansen acknowledged the relationship with the fans.

“They were the ones that have been here 14 years and kept coming and believing in this team and organization. We’re happy to give them a couple of playoff victories. At the same time, like I was just saying, we’re not satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. We’ve taken some strides, that’s for sure, and a lot of guys have played some great hockey lately. Moving forward we just want to get better,” he said.

No guarantees, of course.

Edmonton went to a Stanley Cup final in 2006 and hasn’t got a whiff of a postseason game since.

The Toronto Maple Leafs played seven games last spring, their only appearance since before the 2004-05 lockout.

But given how this team is built, from the top on down from president John Davidson and GM Jarmo Kekalainen to head coach Todd Richards, this team has the feel of a team tracking the right direction.

Before taking questions from the media after the game, Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma suggested a playoff rivalry had been born in this series.

“They gave us everything we could handle. Great series from them,” Bylsma said.

“They were an extremely tough first-round opponent.”