Blue Jackets’ Atkinson: Opponents starting to ‘respect’ us

A trip into Columbus used to mean an two easy points.

Qualifying for the playoffs just twice since entering the NHL in 2000, more often than not the second half of the season in Columbus has seen fans focused on draft rankings rather than the playoff race.

The Blue Jackets have finished no higher than fourth in their division dating back to 2006.

But things have changed this year.

No longer the NHL's pushover, the Blue Jackets have made a name for themselves this season, emerging as a respected opponent after years as the league's dormant.

Related: Tortorella sees 'different attitude' in Blue Jackets' locker room

For much the of the season, the Blue Jackets have hovered around the top spot in the East, including a near-record win streak, one short of the all-time mark set by the 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coming out of the All-Star break, the Blue Jackets hold a 32-12-4 record, good for 68 points, and are poised for the playoffs for the first time since 2014. In all, the Jackets sit just four points behind the Washington Capitals for first place league-wide, while holding a game in hand.

"It's great that finally we're not the underdog anymore; teams are starting to show us a little more respect," Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson told Arpon Basu of NHL.com. "But that being said, teams aren't taking us so lightly anymore. We have to kind of embrace that and accept the challenge and be ready to go."

It's been more of a challenge for Columbus of late, where the Blue Jackets have struggled to a 5-6-0 record since the win streak was snapped by the Capitals on Jan. 5 following a 5-0 drubbing.

"Obviously when you go on a 16-game win streak you feel like you're on top of the world and nothing can go wrong," said defenseman Seth Jones. "Then you kind of come back down to Earth a little bit and realize that's going to end at some point. We're around .500 this month, not where we'd like to be after a month like last month."

The Blue Jackets will have a chance to get back to their winning ways in short order, as the team's schedule coming out of the All-Star break includes 28 games against the East, and 18 of those matches within the Metropolitan Division.

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