ST. LOUIS -- Playing the role of underdog doesn't bother John Muckler. He almost embraces the idea.
With just nine games left in the Senators' regular season, Ottawa's GM is encouraging the experts to talk about everybody else as a Stanley Cup contender and just let his club prepare for the post-season.
With most of the attention on the first-place Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference, the Senators aren't getting the kind of notice they have in the past.
"There's still doubt whether we can win in the playoffs or not," said Muckler yesterday. "That's always going to be there until we do win. The players know that.
"It's nice not to be the favourite. Talk about Buffalo and talk about whoever you want to talk about. Just leave us alone and let us carry on. That's the best way of going into the playoffs."
As the Senators prepare for tonight's game in St. Louis, Muckler is feeling good about his club's chances with the playoffs three weeks away.
Muckler said in his five years here, the Senators haven't had this much depth or chemistry going into the playoffs.
"You have to believe that you can win and you have a chance every night," said Muckler. "The chemistry is a lot better. The leadership is a lot better. We've got some people that are elite hockey players. We've got some good role players.
"Your stars aren't going to be your stars every night. Other people will have to pick it up when they're not."
Unlike past years when the Senators rolled through the regular season, there have been some bumps along the way this season.
They struggled in November and were hit by injuries in December, but they've been rolling along in the second half with only five regulation losses in the last 37 games.
"We're a different team than we were in past years," said Muckler. "We had injuries and we found out that we had more depth in the organization than we thought we had. It's a credit to the coaches they could go to these people and put them in different situations and see results."
Muckler knows even though the Senators aren't the favourites, there will be pressure.
"There's always pressure when you're going for a Stanley Cup," said Muckler. "Anybody you play is going to be tough."