Umberger: "We would have made some noise"
While always holding the benefit of hindsight, the consensus among Blue Jackets players was that had the season not ended when it did, it had the chance to be special.
Heading down the stretch, this was a club that posted a 19-5-4 record since Mar. 1 and went from last place into the thick of a playoff race. The Blue Jackets played their best hockey when it counted, but unfortunately, they came up one point shot of the second playoff berth in franchise history.
But one positive was to end the season the way they did: in front of a sold-out Nationwide Arena with an atmosphere unlike any they've experienced in Columbus. That was the common refrain coming from the players as they cleaned out lockers, went through exit physicals and interviews before heading into the offseason today.
The emotions were still very raw from last night's extreme high to extreme low in about 10 minutes, RJ Umberger said, and the most difficult part was balancing how proud they were with their late-season run with the disappointment of not getting the job done.
At the very least, Umberger said, the Blue Jackets established a standard of going into every game with an expectation of winning.
"As a group, we learned how to win hockey games," Umberger said. "I think we have a foundation of how we want to play here, a work ethic, and a group that's shared a lot together this year. I think the majority of us will be back, and I think it's a great foundation to build off of.
"We're still kind of soaking it in. Last night was such an incredible roller coaster with a such high at one moment and then a low next. I think we'll take some time to reflect; I know we're definitely proud of how we've played here over the past two months."
As coach Todd Richards said after Saturday night's game, perhaps the temporary pain is a good thing in the long term. But the players are left thinking what could have been in a potential first-round series with either the Anaheim Ducks or Chicago Blackhawks - a series that Umberger said would be far different than Columbus' last trip to the postseason.
"Winning is the most fun, it's why we play," Umberger said. "Unfortunately it didn't end the way we wanted to but we did some incredible things these last two months. The hard part is knowing we could have done a lot more in the playoffs and we weren't going to be a team that was just happy to get in. That's the hardest thing that eats at you right now.
"We won that game and we really thought we were going to be in. We really felt we could have done something in these playoffs, it wasn't going to be a show up and we're done kind of thing."
End result aside, there were many positives to emerge from the thrilling ride that the Blue Jackets took their fans along for. The level of genuine excitement, anticipation and pride throughout the city is something Umberger said he won't soon forget about the 2012-13 season.
"It's unlike any other time that I've been here, it's pretty incredible right now," he said. "Fans are coming up to players and thanking them, and this is the way we should be playing all the time and this is what they deserve.
"They enjoyed following this team and watching us put everything out there...they really enjoyed being able to be proud of a team."