VANCOUVER - The 2014 season hasn't quite gone the way the B.C. Lions envisioned.
Key injuries and inconsistent play have been the main culprits in a roller-coaster campaign, but a fresh start in the CFL playoffs means the club has a shot at redemption.
"It does not matter what happened in the regular season," Lions head coach Mike Benevides said after Thursday's practice. "For us, it's just going in and playing the best game we can, playing to the best of our abilities.
"There have been times throughout the season we've done that, but now we've got one chance to make it happen. All the challenges and adversities that have come before us have made us stronger, and now we've got to go and show that we can do it."
The Lions (9-9) — who finished with the fourth-best record in the West Division — earned the crossover playoff berth and will face a road test against the Montreal Alouettes in Sunday's East semifinal.
"It is a fresh start because everybody's record is 0-0," said Lions quarterback Kevin Glenn. "I don't understand why people keep talking about the regular season because it doesn't even matter anymore — we're in the playoffs. We're one of six teams that's in the playoffs and we have an opportunity to fight for a Grey Cup."
While players and coaches are focused on looking ahead, the up-and-down 18-game schedule is the reason the Lions find themselves having to win twice on the road in the Eastern time zone in order to get to the Grey Cup at B.C. Place Stadium at the end of November.
The Lions were decimated by injuries in 2014, with running back Andrew Harris and wide receiver Courtney Taylor among the important pieces lost for the season, while No. 1 quarterback Travis Lulay missed has most of the campaign with a shoulder ailment.
"Guys are ready and prepared to take on this challenge," said running back Stefan Logan, who also missed signficant time. "We've just got to go over there and handle business. Everybody knows what's on the line. You lose and you go home. You win and you keep going."
The host team has won the last three Grey Cups — each doing so after overcoming daunting challenges head-on — and B.C. is hoping the trend continues.
"You never know," said linebacker Solomon Elimimian. "You have to get hot at the right time and once you get in anybody can win."
The Lions were victorious in 2011 after starting the season 0-5, the Toronto Argonauts took the title in 2012 following a 9-9 regular season, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders lifted the trophy last year after stumbling down the stretch ahead of the playoffs.
"Any championship team has gone through adversity in some shape or form," said Benevides. "You just look at history and you learn from history. You can't relive it, you can't try and emulate it ... but there's a lot of lessons to be learned.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge to play a good football team over there, but I know our team's pretty damn good, too. We just have to go out there and perform."
The Lions relied heavily on a defence led by Elimimian — named as the West's nominee for most outstanding player on Thursday — as the offence sputtered at times under Glenn, who threw for 3,918 yards and 17 touchdowns, but also tossed a league-high 17 interceptions.
"You could say it hasn't gone according to plan, but it's in front of us," said Elimimian, who set a CFL record for tackles this season. "We can win this thing, we're in this dance and we can honestly win this thing."
Lulay led the Lions to the 2011 Grey Cup and is desperately trying to get healthy ahead of the game in Montreal. He re-injured his surgically repaired shoulder back in September in his first start of the season, but has been progressing in hopes making himself available in some capacity on Sunday.
While Glenn is likely to start, Lulay's situation is even more important given that the status of backup quarterback John Beck — who suffered a concussion last week — is still very much up in the air.
"We'll look at the film and be honest about it," Lulay said of his prospects of being activated. "I definitely feel better than I did a week ago and feel like I did more today than I did yesterday, so that progression is what I'd hoped for and that's something."
The Lions come into the playoffs on a two-game losing streak after dropping a 37-3 decision to the Edmonton Eskimos (13-3) on the road, before falling 33-16 at home to the Calgary Stampeders (15-3).
And while no team wants a losing streak heading into the post-season, finishing fourth in the West and crossing over to the East means Montreal (9-9) and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (9-9) are all that stands in the way of the Lions playing another championship game in their backyard.
"Right now you can draw the slate clean. We're all 0-0. We have confidence," said Lulay. "We know we can win, we know we can find a way to get back in this game, but I think it's going to take better play than the last couple weeks.
"Maybe the team's got me fooled a little bit, but I think there's pretty good confidence in the room that we can go in and play well."
Like the rest of his teammates, Lulay is hoping to make things right in a season that was supposed to go so much differently.
"Regardless of what's happened to this point, the playoffs is a six-team tournament and it's anybody's ball game," he said. "It's bigger than anybody's personal story or individual situation.
"It's not about what teams did in the front half, or what the teams did in the weeks leading up to the playoffs. It's about who earns the right to win in the playoffs."
Notes: The Lions were 1-1 against the Alouettes this season, with the last game coming on July 19. ... B.C. is 5-4 on the road this season as opposed to 4-5 at home. ... The Lions held a closed practice at B.C. Place on Thursday. The team will practise at its suburban facility on Friday before departing for Montreal.