Blue Jackets team leaves legacy of character and heart

Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) salutes the fans after the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena. The Penguins won the game 4-3.

Greg Bartram/Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus — Twenty minutes after the players came off the ice after almost making an amazing comeback against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Johansen sat in his stall. He was still dressed as if he wanted to head right back out and play, the emotion from being eliminated from the playoffs evident on his face and in his voice.

"The thing that’s most frustrating right now," he said, "is the feeling that we could have won every game, at least maybe one or two more. Those two wins we had were character wins. We definitely got a lot of experience out of this series and we need that moving forward."

There are many ways to describe this team. Hard-nosed, physical and outworking their opponent, are just a few. But the two most important words to describe this team are character and heart. Their third period heroics, down 0-4, help to define what this team is made of. Scoring three goals in 4:52 was almost good enough.

"We were waiting for it on the bench," Johansen said. "We knew, at some point, it was coming. We were going to have some sort of push. It’s too bad that it was that late, because we were coming ‘hot’."

They are a team that many who had not seen them play thought might get beat soundly and resolutely by the Penguins. They proved them all wrong. They showed the rest of the league, and a national television audience, that they may be young but they earned their place in these playoffs.

Last year they kicked, scratched and clawed their way to within a tie-breaker of making the playoffs. This year, they gave Pittsburgh a six-course taste of what "Blue Jackets hockey" is. But that doesn’t take away the disappointment of being eliminated.

There’s no ‘quit’ in this group. There hasn’t been all year. If there’s one thing you can’t question, it’s the heart and character of this group.

-Mark Letestu

"Anytime you lose, it stings," said Nick Foligno. "I think getting in the playoffs, you feel really good about that. We’re really proud of the fact that we got in. But, our goal was to win the Stanley Cup and we didn’t attain that goal."

So, it stings. Every year, you lace ’em up, expecting to win and wanting to win. When it doesn’t happen, it’s a tough feeling. Right now, it’s a tough one to swallow."

With the resiliency that they have shown throughout the year, is it any surprise that they made this into a hell of game in the final stanza? There was a collective belief on the bench and from the 19,189 in attendance that they could get the job done.

"Once we broke the dam," Mark Letestu said, "we started to come (on strong). Unfortunately, we didn’t do it early enough. I think, had we extended that period by another five minutes, who knows? We might have got that fourth (goal). We just ran out of time and didn’t start early enough."

Time will heal the sting of losing a series that they could have won. What they can take solace in is the fact that they never give up, even when down 0-4 in the third period of a game in which they could be eliminated.

"There’s no ‘quit’ in this group," Letestu continued. "There hasn’t been all year. If there’s one thing you can’t question, it’s the heart and character of this group."

At the end of the night, they might hang their heads in disappointment. But, they should really hold their heads high with what they accomplished and the civic and team pride that they were at the heart of. There is nothing to be ashamed of considering where they were just two short years ago.

As the last of the media filed out of the dressing room, a lone figure was still sitting in his stall, suited up. Ryan Johansen did not want this to end. Through the disappointment in his eyes burned a fire in what may lay in wait for the Blue Jackets. That is the emotion you want to see, is it not?