The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the underdog since coming into the NHL at the start of the 2000-2001 season.
Placed in a division with two of the "Original Six" teams in the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, the Blue Jackets played more than a third of their games each season in the Central, Mountain or Pacific time zones, and qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs only once in their history.
That was until this season, when the Blue Jackets won a franchise-record 43 games and scored a team-best 231 goals en route to their second-ever berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So, while the Blue Jackets drew a tough matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who beat them in all five meetings this year, they are embracing the role of the underdog.
"It's not a bad role to be in when you're a young team," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "I think it's been like that in my three years here. It's nothing new for us, and that's where you've got to start anyways. Until you become a consistent winner, that's the way it's always going to be.
"We had a good year, and we're the seventh seed, so that means there's teams ahead of us. I don't mind the underdog role. We're a young team. We've had it all year and toward the end of the year too. I think teams, people were waiting for us to falter, waiting to say, 'I told you so,' and this team never did."
While the Blue Jackets lost all five of their matchups to the Penguins this year, including four by at least two goals, the players donning the red, white and blue jerseys do not feel as though they are underdogs.
"We're seven and they're No. 2, so the standings say that," Columbus defenseman Ryan Murray said. "We haven't won against them all year, so I think a lot of people think we're the underdogs. We know what we can do, how good of a team that we are. We have to believe in that and show that.
"(I'll) really do whatever I can to contribute to the team. Everybody's obviously going to give a full effort. Everybody worked so hard for this moment and this time of the year, so just take it all in and experience it, and I'll do whatever I can to contribute.
"It's such a privilege to get in and you really want to fight and stay in and keep going. The whole atmosphere, the intensity, every game means so much, and that's what you want to play for. That's what you play hockey for."
The Blue Jackets fought for the Stanley Cup Playoffs berth through the final week of the season, clinching a berth in their third-last game of the year, and Richards knows the team will have to continue ratcheting up the intensity and physicality if they want to continue playing hockey beyond next week.
"Once you get into the first game, there's another step with intensity, physicality," Richards said. "It's no different with the playoffs. The excitement of the building and the energy in the building is going to be different. It's going to feel different. The pace of the game, the physicality, the intensity, it's all going to have a different feel to it."