COLUMBUS — They filled Nationwide Arena again on Monday night, wearing jerseys with names such as Bobrovsky and Panarin.
The 19,209 fans entered the game knowing that the Blue Jackets would either send Columbus into a Game 7 for the first time in franchise history or have the team’s first extended playoff run end in disappointment and a summer of potential key departures.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, it was the latter. The Boston Bruins ended their season with a 3-0 victory to win an Eastern Conference semifinal series four games to two.
The night began with much hope, with a crowd that acted like it had waited the 18 seasons it had for such a game.
“I don’t know if there’s been a better building in the playoffs,” center Matt Duchene said Monday morning. “Anybody who’s been here to see it would agree.”
Ten seconds into the game, Blue Jackets fans erupted into a full-throated “CBJ!” chant. They got in their first hearty boos of Bruins agitator Brad Marchand seconds later. They roared when a Boston goal midway through the first period was overturned on replay review for goaltender interference.
But the Blue Jackets couldn’t cash in themselves against Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask, who stopped all 39 shots and was brilliant for most of the series.
“We had a lot of chances,” Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said. “What did we hit, four or five posts?”
Boston scored on a blistering shot off a rebound by David Krejci past goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky midway through the second period, quieting the crowd only momentarily.
Their emotion turned to outrage with 20 seconds left in the period when Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy crushed Josh Anderson with a hit to the head and was given only a two-minute minor penalty and not a match penalty.
The Blue Jackets couldn’t capitalize then, nor could they later on a third-period power play in which they had numerous prime chances. Boston then put the game away with two more goals.
As the final seconds ticked off, Jackets fans responded with another “CBJ!” cheer.
Now the franchise must hope that what was built this season can be sustained. Bobrovsky is considered nearly certain to leave as a free agent, and leading scorer Artemi Panarin is a long shot to return. Both players gave noncommittal answers about their future after the game.
Duchene, added before the trade deadline as the biggest of the Jackets’ go-for-it February acquisitions, is the most valuable of a few other impending free agents.
After the traditional handshake line, Blue Jackets fans saluted their team with a final ovation and “CBJ!” chant. The players responded with their own salute.
“It means a lot to us obviously,” Jones said. “They’ve been with us through the ups and downs this year. When we played like crap in front of them, they’ve been with us. When we’ve played well, they’ve been there for us. Through the years when we’ve struggled, it’s special to see that they’re right there by your side until the end.”
The Blue Jackets were the talk of the NHL for a stunning first-round sweep of Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay. They had a 2-1 series lead on the Bruins. But now their season is over, leaving only memories and the hope that stars can be retained or replaced to make hockey in May a regular occurrence — and maybe even in June.
“Next year, who knows what’s going to happen, who’s going to be in this locker room?” left wing Cam Atkinson said. “This one stings.”