He is the only Ottawa Senator in the Guinness World Records.
No, we are not talking about dubious expenses or shabby attendance – we speak here of the hockey Senators, specifically one Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Pageau, of course, is the local kid who on Saturday led the Senators’ come-from-behind 6-5 double-overtime victory over the New York Rangers by scoring four goals, including the last three in a row, to claim an unexpected victory.
The Senators, now up two games to none against the team that was favoured to win this playoff round, will next meet the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
Saturday’s hero is not himself in Guinness, but his namesake, “Honey Badger” is as the “world’s most fearless creature.” It might well be an apt description for the 24-year-old Gatineau native who is listed at 5 foot 10 and 180 pounds but is neither as tall nor as heavy as claimed.
“A fearless animal,” head coach Guy Boucher said of his little centre’s moniker following the win. “Probably the most fearless animal on Earth. It doesn’t care – it will take on anything.”
The self-effacing Pageau had no sense that Saturday was about to turn special for him. He doesn’t care for afternoon games, for one thing. And he didn’t feel particularly sharp: “I thought I ate too much before the game. I had two chicken parms.”
A few hours later, he also had two goals on tips and two goals on shots, with hats showering down onto the ice from the Canadian Tire Centre stands. The sellout crowd cheered him and sang “PAAA-geau, PA-geau, Pageau, Pageau” in mockery of the better-known “Ole” chant of Montreal Canadiens fans.
Pageau’s chant, in fact, dates from a big playoff game against the Canadiens four years ago, when he scored a hat trick and lost a tooth in the Senators’ first series win over an Original Six team.
It was a performance that led to then-head coach Paul MacLean saying they should rename the bridges to Gatineau “Jean, Gabriel and Pageau.” There are, however, four bridges linking downtown Ottawa to cross-river Gatineau, so perhaps Saturday’s four-goal performance is an even better argument.
Led by Pageau, the Senators staged a truly remarkable third-period comeback to force the Rangers to overtime. At the 2:54 mark of the second extra period, Pageau took a pass from Alex Burrows, broke down the left side and beat New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist cleanly, high to the glove side.
Ottawa defenceman Dion Phaneuf called the performance “legendary.”
“Four goals – that’s absolutely sick,” Boucher said. “Tying goal. Overtime goal. It couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Pageau called it, “a special moment. I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.”
It was not great hockey. An “ugly day” that required “ugly goals,” Boucher conceded. The afternoon match was at times crazy, at many times sloppy, a few times dreadful and just as many times exciting, especially in the chaotic, scrambling overtime periods.
“We dug ourselves a hole and we found our way out of it,” Phaneuf said. “We got lucky.”
The Rangers had two short-handed goals as the troubled Ottawa power play continued to stumble through its season. Winger Jesper Fast picked up a puck that had been fumbled by Ottawa’s Mark Stone and threaded a perfect pass allowing Michael Grabner to beat Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson for his third goal of the playoffs.
“I made a terrible play,” Stone confessed.
The Rangers scored again short-handed to go up 3-1 when Rick Nash sent Derek Stepan down the right side and Stepan beat Anderson for his second goal of the playoffs.
The Senators were at their best at even strength. Gabriel scored his first when Rangers defenceman Dan Girardi, usually so dependable, blindly swatted a puck across to the far boards, allowing Pageau to pick up the gift and fire a hard wrist shot past Lundqvist. The unassisted goal was Pageau’s second of the post-season.
New York also got goals from Chris Kreider and two from defenceman Brady Skjei, who played a particularly strong game for the Rangers.
Marc Methot scored for Ottawa when the big defenceman followed up on a Mike Hoffman rush. And Stone lucked into a goal when a Phaneuf shot banged off the boards and bounced back through Lundqvist’s legs to the blade of Stone’s stick.
It seemed, after Skjei’s second goal, that the game lacked only a buzzer to end matters at 5-3 in the Rangers’ favour.
But then Jean-Gabriel Pageau went to work.
With three minutes left he tipped a long Zack Smith shot past Lundqvist to bring the Senators within one. With a minute and a half left in regulation, Boucher gambled and pulled Anderson for the extra attacker. Ottawa gained the New York zone, captain Erik Karlsson sent the puck across to Kyle Turris and Turris one-timed a slap shot that, again, Pageau tipped into the net.
Hats rained down onto the ice for Pageau’s hattrick. But he wasn’t through. It took nearly 23 minutes of overtime before the local kid everyone thought was too small for professional hockey came through.
“He definitely was a big man today,” Boucher said.
And outside, far into the parking lots, they were still singing his praises.
“PAAA-geau, PA-geau, Pageau, Pageau … ”