You have a Stanley Cup ring but haven't been to the finals in eight years. You have a roster sprinkled with veterans and youngsters, but a No. 1 goalie who hasn't felt the pressures of an NHL post-season.
And as a reward for guiding your team to its first-ever playoff berth, you've been saddled with the task of knocking off the defending champions in a best-of-seven opening round.
What is a coach to do?
"I'm not sure what to expect," Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters during a recent conference call. "It just seems like forever now I coached the team with the pressure on them."
The Blue Jackets, who debuted in 2000, gained the seventh seed in the Western Conference this playoff season with a 41-31-10 record for 92 points, 20 behind the second-place Detroit Red Wings, who host Game 1 Thursday at 7 p.m. ET.
"To not have any pressure, that maybe goes to our advantage," said Hitchcock, who won a Cup with Dallas in 1999 and fell to New Jersey in the finals the following year. "We're a team that relies on pressure and then on position. And it's not going to change, whether it's the Red Wings or whatever."
Columbus will take advantage of its size as four of the top nine forwards are six-foot-two or taller, while five of the starting six defencemen — Mike Commodore, Jan Hejda, Fedor Tyutin, Marc Methot and Rostislav Klesla — are at least six-foot-three.
Columbus into the intimidation factor
"Columbus wants to intimidate and they want, over the course of a series, that you finally submit to them, but that's just not going to happen because we know Detroit's best players, you can't intimidate them," said Hockey Night in Canada analyst Kelly Hrudey.
The reason is simple: the Red Wings have been here before, having won four Cups in the past 11 years, including last June in a six-game victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They will attempt to repeat as Cup champions for the first time since 1998 when they defeated Washington.
The Red Wings also successfully defended their title in 1955 and 1937. But since Colorado in 2002, no defending Stanley Cup champion has made it past the first round of the playoffs.
"At this time of year you are trying to find as much experience as you can because most people think experience is important," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told CBCSports.ca.
Detroit forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa and Johan Franzen all cracked the 30-goal barrier and are between the ages of 28 and 30. At 25, centre Valtteri Filppula and right-winger Jiri Hudler are still young, while fellow forwards Kris Draper, 37, and Tomas Holmstrom, 36, bring loads of experience.
"In the past, teams figured they could come in and bully us around a little bit, and they end up taking penalties and we'll get them on the power play," Red Wings defenceman Derek Meech told CBCSports.ca.
Columbus will need to be a disciplined group as Detroit boasted the NHL's top power play in the regular season. It converted 25.5 per cent of its chances, with five players scoring at least 10 goals: Zetterberg (12), Datsyuk (11), Franzen (11), Hossa (10) and all-star defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom (10).
Mason making NHL playoff debut
Hitchcock will be counting on rookie goaltender Steve Mason to be his team's top player on the penalty-kill. The leading candidate for NHL rookie of the year honours, he led the league in shutouts (10) and was second in goals-against average (2.29).
Mason, who led Canada to a world junior championship in 2008, also fared well against Detroit, going 3-2 in five games with a 2.58 GAA and .930 save percentage.
"We know they're big, and well-organized and well-coached by Ken Hitchcock" said Holland. "They've got a young goaltender [Mason] who has had a tremendous year and [Blue Jackets leading scorer] Rick Nash has always played well against us."
Six of Nash's career-high 40 goals this season came against Detroit, which is likely to match Zetterberg's line — with the six-foot-three, 218-pound Franzen on the wing — against Columbus' all-star right-winger.
To counter, expect Hitchcock to instruct his charges to play a trap in an attempt to suffocate the Wings on the attack.
"They always have someone back [in the defensive zone] and they try to get you to dump the puck in," said P.J. Stock of HNIC. "Detroit is just way too talented and the guys that carry the puck — Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Hossa — they're too strong on the puck."
Red Wings centre Kris Draper has an undisclosed upper-body injury and won't play in games 1 or 2. Forward Dan Cleary pronounced himself ready on Wednesday despite battling a lower-body injury.
Winger Fredrik Modin is expected to play Thursday for the first time since suffering a knee injury on March 5.