Cam Atkinson has been here before. It may have been a couple of years since he last played in a playoff buzzed barn, but the energy that is coursing through the Columbus Blue Jackets locker room and swirling around Nationwide Arena and inside right now is nothing new to the Riverside, Conn., native.
Atkinson was the focal point for Boston College's success in 2010. The 2008 pick of the Blue Jackets led the nation with 30 goals, but more importantly he found the back of the net six times as the Eagles went on to win the national title against Wisconsin.
"Winning a national championship at BC was exciting," Atkinson said. "That's why you go to schools like that, to win national championships."
To make the playoffs and ultimately hoist Lord Stanley's cup into the air is what Atkinson, and every NHL player, strives to accomplish. Yet the postseason has been few and far between for the Blue Jackets. Columbus has only qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in franchise history (2009).
But the Blue Jackets enter the weekend in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings with 49 points, two more than the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars. However, the Red Wings and Stars have two games in hand.
Atkinson admitted the transition to a rebuilding franchise was certainly different after playing hockey at Boston College and in prep school for New England power Avon Old Farms, where he won three New England Championships.
"It was definitely a little bit of a change," said the 23-year-old. "I was used to winning, but I think at the end of last year when I was up for the last two months or so we found ways to win.
"It's every team's goal to make playoffs and hopefully go on a run and win the Stanley Cup. Obviously we're right in the middle of it and we're playing some good hockey and were finding ways to win."
The 5-foot-7 forward has battled a lower-body injury all season long and has registered six goals and eight assists in 32 games. His 14 points ties his career-high from last year when he scored seven goals and seven assists in 27 games during his first season of professional hockey. Atkinson registered 44 points (29 goals, 15 assists) for the Springfield Falcons prior to his prime time call up.
"I feel a lot better than I did," Atkinson said. "Anywhere from 90-95 percent. It's not going to get any better until I really rest it. I have my speed back and I can do things that I am capable of doing and it feels good."
Atkinson admits he rushed back from the injury in February to try and help the Blue Jackets make a late season push. But at this time of year, the pain is the farthest thing from his mind.
"When I came back I wasn't even close to being ready, but it felt right," Atkinson said. "Me being 80 percent helped the team win some games."
Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said it will take contributions from every player on his roster - from a first liner to a fourth liner, a grizzled veteran or a wide-eyed rookie - if the team is going to play into the month of May.
Atkinson can, and has, led this team along with a mix of other players inside the Columbus locker room.
"It's about having winners on your team. They know what it takes," said the first-year Blue Jackets coach.
"Cam's game has gotten to a point where he is starting to drive the team. He is one of the guys. His tenacity and his speed, his ability to make plays and score big goals."
Atkinson spent his first professional season with the Falcons, where he scored 29 goals and notched 15 assists while playing with current Blue Jackets teammate Matt Calvert. Both Calvert and Atkinson played for the Falcons during the NHL lockout.
"The big thing is we figured out a way to play at this level," Calvert said. "In Springfield we had a great team down there and we won a lot of hockey games. You get confidence winning together and obviously playing on a line together. We made the step together."
Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson first met Atkinson last year after being traded to Columbus from the Los Angeles Kings. The pair then suited up for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship.
"He is going to get better every year for a long time," Johnson said. "He is no different than any one of us. You get better every year just learning different situations and being more comfortable on the ice in the NHL every day. He is fast, quick, smart. A big part of this team."
As the team heads down the crucial stretch run, there is no doubt in Atkinson's mind that the Blue Jackets have what it takes to play deep into the spring.
"We were definitely capable of doing this," he said. "We're excited we're in the hunt. It's so much more enjoyable. You got to battle. You have to make sure you bring it day in and day out. It's what every player wants. That's when big players step up and do big things."
And regardless of where the Blue Jackets finish this season, this is only the beginning says Atkinson.
"It's definitely exciting to see that you can play in the best league in the whole world," he said. "But I am not done. I am not satisfied. There is still a lot for me to accomplish and to do."