LOS ANGELES — Cobie Smulders thinks it's time "maybe to take my stuff out of storage."

After all, she co-stars in "How I Met Your Mother," the freshman CBS sitcom that's No. 1 in its Mondays at 7:30 p.m. time slot.

Like many other actors from Canada, Smulders, 23, was accustomed to flying south for TV's pilot season — the early part of each year when actors flock into Hollywood hoping to land just the right role.

"I think it's very much a Canadian thing, where you work hard all year so you can live from January to May and spend all your money and hope that you can get a job, so that you can get a work visa to stay here longer," says the former model. "Thankfully that happened this time."

"How I Met Your Mother" is a tale told in flashback, with voice-over provided by Bob Saget as Ted, whose youthful search for the ultimate wife as explained to his kids forms the basis of the series.

Josh Radnor plays the younger Ted, and Smulders portrays Robin, who first looked like perfect-partner material for Ted but was ruled out in the first episode as his eventual wife and has become a close friend.

So how do we know Ted and Robin won't ever marry? She's now referred to as the kids' "Aunt Robin" in the narration.

Yet the character remains a key factor in what series creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas hope will be a many-season search for the person who actually becomes Ted's better half and the mother of his children.

For example, in the episode that aired Monday, although Ted and Robin are dating other people, they share what Thomas describes as "a really nice, ambiguous kiss" on New Year's Eve.

"It's really beautiful . . . it's a good Cobie moment," says Thomas, waxing almost lyrical about Smulders' appeal.

Her one previous lead role was as archaeologist Juliet Droil in ABC's mystery adventure series "Veritas: The Quest," which ran for just four episodes in 2003. Working on productions shot in Canada she has also appeared on "Special Unit 2," "Smallville" and "The L Word."

The "How I Met Your Mother" casting director, impressed by Smulders' charms, told the producers, "I have your Robin." Immediately upon meeting her, they agreed she was perfect — distinctive from other hopefuls they'd auditioned.

"We'd seen a lot of beautiful women before her, but there just wasn't that incisive intelligence, and wit, and this strength and confidence that Cobie has," says Thomas.

"We are trying to do this show about how complicated it is to ultimately find the person you are supposed to be with," he explains. "We just thought what is a better obstacle and complication in that journey than having this beautiful, strong, funny woman, who is one of your best friends and you're in love with her, but she's just not destined to be the one for you. We felt that was really compelling, more compelling than trying to do, 'Will they or won't they?' for years."

Set in New York but produced at Fox Studios in Los Angeles, the series is filmed in the traditional four-camera style used for live-audience sitcoms. But there is no live audience. Episodes are screened later for an audience, who provide the laughs.

While the actors lose the comedic benefit of playing to a crowd, the system allows for more freedom of movement between sets and characters during filming, and more creativity in post-production.

Also in the cast as Ted's other close friends are Neil Patrick Harris as Barney, Jason Segel as Marshall and Alyson Hannigan as Lily.

Smulders sees the show as a journey "about relationships, and finding love, and looking for love, and the loss of love."