CALGARY, AB -- The Calgary Flames carried the card of underdog all year.
Jonas Hiller is content with carrying it all the way into Calgary’s matchup against the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in fact.
“I still don’t think we’re going to be the team that everybody thinks is going to win the Cup but we’ve proven that we can play against most teams and win against most teams,” the Flames goaltender said. “You want to do it in the playoffs, too. At the same time, there are 16 teams that all found a way to make the playoffs. There are no bad teams. At the end it’s going to be a battle every night. We just have to be ready and prepared to go out there and leave everything out there.”
The Flames defied preseason predictions in making their first appearance in the playoffs since 2009.
Most suggested Calgary would have a better shot at the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft than making their first playoff appearance in six years come springtime.
So with predictions rolling in that the underdog Flames may in fact move to favourites in the first round against Vancouver doesn’t have those in the dressing room perking up.
“We’re beyond that now I think,” said Joe Colborne, indifferent that the likes of ESPN, in seven games, and The Hockey News, in six games, have pegged the plucky bunch to best the Canucks and push beyond the first round.
“We’re pretty confident in our group right now and with our systems and the way we play. That’s a good team over there too though. It’s going to be tough. I don’t think we really are relishing if we’re going to be the underdogs or not. I think its just confidence in ourselves and in our teammates.
“Personally, I don’t really pay too much attention to it. It doesn’t really matter to us. It’s more the stuff that’s coming from the coaching staff and from our teammates.”
But Colborne’s coach has, perhaps strategically, tried to retain the title of underdog heading into Vancouver.
"They're favourites in all departments. We feel just lucky to be here,” Bob Hartley declared. “At the same time, we're not backing off from any challenges. That's in our DNA so we'll try to prove ourselves right again and we know we're facing a team with basically no weaknesses. You look at them, they're well built, they have speed, they have size, they have great goaltending so I think it's going to be a great matchup.”
With that, Hartley challenged the underdog tag.
"At every party that has been organized in the NHL this year we've always got the last invitation and by the time we got there, there was no more sandwiches,” he said. “We're use to this and we're okay with this.
“We'll come in and we'll try to pick up the crumbs."
From those tossing predictions from the outside, the Flames are fine with those still hesitating to get behind the Flames.
Inside the room, there’s plenty of buy-in.
And it’s been there all season long.
“In our minds I don’t think we necessarily thought we were the underdogs all year,” Brandon Bollig said, “We knew what we had in this room. We knew how hard we were going to work. For us, I think we obviously had to earn every win we had this year and every point.
“Yeah, as far as outside this room I think a lot of people are going to find it hard to believe you can call us an underdog at this point given that we’ve exceeded anyone’s expectations this year.
“But for us, we’re looking to keep riding this wave and keep earning everything we’ve got and don’t quit.”
Because the story, Hiller believes, isn’t finished being told just yet.
“I think to make the playoffs, it’s not easy no matter if you play on the Stanley Cup defending team or if you play on the worst team from the previous season,” he said. “I think every season writes its own story. It’s been a great story for us this year but at the same time I think the story hasn’t come to an end for us.
“We want to write the last chapter, make it the most fun and most interesting one.”