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Blue Jackets sparkling under winning-streak spotlight

One victory from tying NHL record of 17 games, Columbus has earned recognition, respect

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets are doing their record-setting best to establish a reputation they haven't had since entering the NHL in the 2000-01 season.

Columbus plays at the Washington Capitals on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CSN-DC, FS-O, NHL.TV) with a 16-game winning streak, the second-longest in NHL history and one short of the record set by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins (March 9-April 10, 1993).

"You win that many in a row, it's going to help you down the road, but we need to continue to win," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. "You can't sit on this. The hunger is there to be better."

So, too, is the drive to turn around the national image, if there is one at all, of the Blue Jackets, who have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs twice in their first 15 seasons (2008-09 and 2013-14). They were 34-40-8 last season, 27th in the NHL.

"It's the respect factor," Foligno said. "We realize last year we had zero respect in the League, and we had worked hard to get it a couple of years back, and through our own fault we lost it. That's what bothered myself mostly, and a lot of guys in the room, it was that."

Video: 16 great plays from the Blue Jackets' historic streak

Foligno came to Columbus from the Ottawa Senators in a trade for defenseman Marc Methot on July 1, 2012, and has seen some highs but mainly lows, including the modern NHL-record 0-8-0 start last season.

"When I came here I wanted to be a big part of turning this thing around and being part of an organization that people respected, not feared, but revered," Foligno said. "We're starting to get that. I don't think we're there yet.

"We're no longer the Columbus Blue Jackets of old, I think. We've taken a big step in becoming a new team, a new direction, a new organization."

Coach John Tortorella said he likes that the Blue Jackets are using past failures to motivate themselves. He again said to the media Wednesday that Columbus (27-5-4) plays an NHL-high 19 back-to-back games after having 18 last season.

"These guys are proud athletes. They're proud people," he said. "I brought it up right away at camp: We have zero respect in this league. It should work that way. In this league, it's hard to gain respect. That's their rally, I believe.

"There's nothing better for a coach than to have athletes with a chip on their shoulders."

Columbus is one of the youngest teams in the NHL and has chosen to embrace rather than repel the pressure that goes with trying to set a record.

"There's no burden with our team. That's what I like about it," Tortorella said. "A lot of these guys haven't been covered nationally, haven't received too much information from outside, people covering from the outside.

"This has brought a little bit of light to the organization in a positive way. A number of things have been in the negative way for the organization over the years."

Forward Matt Calvert, who has been with the Blue Jackets since 2010-11 and is their longest-tenured player, has noticed the local morning TV news shows and radio stations have jumped onto the bandwagon, and players are getting recognized more in the community.

"When you create that atmosphere and that buzz in the city, you want to win for them so much more," he said.

The streak will come to an end, but it already has served a purpose greater than points in the standings and noise around Columbus.

"As amazing as this run has been, and it's been fun to be a part of it, it's still really early in the regular season," Foligno said. "It gives the guys, maybe, a little trial run of when it actually matters how you can handle yourself and things you can do differently.

"I know how different a feeling it is when playoffs hit, so that will be a whole different ballgame for some guys in here, but just having this experience will help those guys handle it and have something to fall back on."

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