OTTAWA — As a hometown kid, Jean-Gabriel Pageau feeds off the noise of the crowd here. Sometimes he feeds off more than that. “I thought I ate too much before the game,” he said. “I had two chicken parms.”
In which case, the Senators are a good bet to bolster the Italian buffet. By the end of a vibrant Game 2 on Saturday in this conference semifinal series, he had twice as many goals as he did lunch entrees. Four goals in all, including two in the final 3:19 of regulation, one on a desperate six-on-five situation and one in the second overtime, made his team feel and its fans feel like satisfied guests at Thanksgiving dinner.
“It is a special moment. I will remember that for the rest of my life, for sure. But I don’t want to stop there now,” he said after stunning the Rangers in a 6-5 victory that put his team ahead 2-0 in the best-of-seven series.
Pageau grew up in Hull, Quebec, and played junior hockey in Gatineau and Chicoutimi, but the birth certificate from 24 years ago says “Ottawa.” To grasp what his effort meant to the locals, imagine Steven Matz throwing a no-hitter for the Mets in the NLCS.
It meant just as much inside the Senators’ locker room, where the 5-10, 180-pound center is called “Honey Badger.” By way of explanation, coach Guy Boucher said, “Look it up: The badger is a fearless animal.”
Dion Phaneuf, who assisted on the goal that cut the deficit to 5-4, said, “Day in and day out, he’s showing up and doing everything he can for his teammates. It was just great to see him get rewarded. Four-goal game, overtime winner: It was just a legendary game. He deserves every bit of credit that he’s getting, that he’s going to get.”
Said Boucher, “Four goals, that’s absolutely sick. It couldn’t happen to a better person. A guy who plays in the NHL at that size is unbelievable. It’s not just a big heart, not just a lot of character. He’s a good hockey player. He’s smart. That’s why he plays the way he does.”
Not every one of Pageau’s coaches has felt that way. His young career has been rife with demotions and questions. Still, he does have a knack for meeting the moment. As a call-up from the minors in 2013, he scored a hat trick in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Canadiens.
“It’s always fun to score one goal here in front of the fans,” he said Saturday. “Hearing them screaming my name, I think it was just keeping me motivated to go out there and give everything I have. Obviously, I got a couple of lucky bounces, but it feels good to do that out there.”
He admitted that at first he felt a little disoriented in a 3 p.m. game, what with the adjustments that requires in meals and other aspects of the daily routine. “Whatever happens during the day, you’ve just got to keep working, keep pushing, keeping things simple, and I think that’s what I did tonight,” he said. “I really want to turn the page as quick as possible and focus on the next game.”
In other words, he intends to stay hungry.