The Colorado Avalanche is in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight year, marking the first time it has made back-to-back appearances since it earned 11 straight trips from 1994-95 to 2005-06.
But this year's postseason has a different feel to it than it did at this time last season.
Colorado finished the 2018-19 regular season with a 38-30-14 record (90 points) to secure the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference as the fifth-place club in the Central Division.
In the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Avalanche lost in six games during its first-round series against the Presidents' Trophy winners, the Nashville Predators. Last year, Colorado had to defeat the St. Louis Blues in regulation in the final game of the regular season to reach the postseason.
"I think we realize that everyone outside of Denver doesn't give us much of a chance, but we're going to embrace the underdog role," said alternate captain Erik Johnson. "Last year was maybe a feel-good story, no one expected us to be there, but this year we expected it. In our minds, we're playing late in the spring, early in the summer."
The Avs recorded 95 points last year, a jump of 47 points from 2016-17 (48). They became the first team to post a 40-plus point increase from one season to the next since the Pittsburgh Penguins also jumped 47 points from 2005-06 (58) to 2006-07 (105) and the improvement earned them a spot in the postseason.
Similar to 2018, Colorado is facing the regular season's best team in the West in this year's first round, the Calgary Flames. Calgary finished the campaign with the NHL's second-best record with a 50-25-7 mark.
Seven players made their Stanley Cup Playoffs debuts in the series with the Predators: forwards Sven Andrighetto, J.T. Compher, Tyson Jost, Alexander Kerfoot and Mikko Rantanen and defensemen Samuel Girard and Nikita Zadorov.
No Avalanche players have made their debut in the set with the Flames so far, as Colorado's roster is the more experienced of the two, featuring 18 players that suited up in last season's series.
The Avs and Flames opened their series on Thursday night in Calgary and although Colorado fell 4-0, there was a confidence around the squad ahead of Game 2 of the best-of-seven set. Nathan MacKinnon netted his second career playoff overtime goal on Saturday, and the Avalanche won 3-2 to even the series at 1-1 before heading back to Denver.
"It is exciting that we are in this position, we just want to give ourselves a chance to win the Cup and that is what the playoffs is ultimately," said MacKinnon. "Last year felt like more of an accomplishment and we were just kind of happy to be in the playoffs, but I think we have a different vibe this year. We actually want to win the Cup and not just make the playoffs and give ourselves a pat on the back."
Having an understanding from last year of what playing playoff hockey is like in the spring is something that will help the Avs weather the ebbs and flows that come with a long series.
"Managing some of the ups and downs and momentum swings within the series, I think the playoff experience becomes more important," said Bednar of the benefit of having played in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. "I think if we look at last year, there's things we can learn out of that series. We made it a tough series but, make no mistake about it, we're going in to win this one and that's our mindset. I think our guys getting a taste of it last year, we're hungry for it this year."