‘Fearless animal’ Pageau making habit of coming up big for Senators

Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored a whopping four goals, the last of which coming as the double-overtime winner, to get the Senators a 6-5 win over the Rangers.

OTTAWA – They will have to get to work on finding another way to honour Jean-Gabriel Pageau in these parts.

It was after his unexpected hat trick here during the 2013 playoffs where former Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean remarked that the bridges to Gatineau should be renamed "Jean, Gabriel and Pageau."

The unheralded centre from across the Ottawa River went one better on Saturday afternoon with a four-goal performance, the last of which sailed past Henrik Lundqvist’s glove in double-overtime, to singlehandedly bring the Senators back from the dead against the New York Rangers in Game 2.

Should they now be searching for a moniker for the fourth bridge, may we suggest: "Honey Badger."

That’s how the scrappy five-foot-10 Pageau is known inside the Senators dressing room.

"A fearless animal," coach Guy Boucher said after a wild 6-5 win. "Probably the most fearless animal on Earth. It doesn’t care, it will take on anything.

"That’s what Pager is."

He is a player not easily quantified. The team lists him at 180 pounds – no word on how much of that is due to his heart – and the coach typically pencils No. 44 into a shutdown role.

There is absolutely nothing about Pageau that screams "goal-scorer" except for the fact he seems to jump out of a hole every now and again when the lights are shining brightest. His two playoff hat tricks account for 13 per cent of the goals he’s ever scored over the course of a 275-game NHL career.

"Sure, maybe two of them are lucky, but the guy had four goals," said teammate Marc Methot. "So he’s doing something right and that’s something that you can’t ignore."

What makes Pageau’s penchant for these moments so compelling is that for a long time he was ignored. He didn’t get selected until the seventh round of the QMJHL draft by his hometown Gatineau Olympiques in 2009, and then became a fourth-round pick of the Senators in 2011.

And yet his bonafides suggest that he is much more than a player you take a flier on.

He pulled his teammates through a sloppy effort on Saturday afternoon where they had to skate uphill the whole way. Ottawa had given up an early short-handed goal and failed to even register a shot on two subsequent power-play opportunities when Pageau tied it 1-1 on a solo rush against the run of play.

Through force of will he erased New York’s 5-3 advantage, cruising through the slot to tip home a Zack Smith shot with 3:19 to play before finding another window in front of Lundqvist to deflect home a Kyle Turris blast with 1:02 left.

"It was a wild one," said Senators captain Erik Karlsson. "Sometimes you’re going to need something spectacular."

On the winner, Pageau was completely out of gas. He was a bit slow getting back in the defensive zone when Alex Burrows chipped the puck to him up the left side.

Pageau put his head down and skated right in front of both benches, deciding against a pass to teammate Tommy Wingels on the 2-on-1 with Rangers defenceman Marc Staal sprawling out to take away the lane.

"I think I closed my eyes when I shot and thankfully it went in," Pageau said in French. "I was on a cloud and it’s a moment I’ll never forget."

He was mobbed by teammates. The roof nearly came off the Canadian Tire Centre.

"It’s a legendary game," said Dion Phaneuf.

"Four goals, that’s absolutely sick," added Boucher. "It couldn’t happen to a better person."

It gave the Senators a 2-0 lead in a playoff series for just the second time in modern franchise history. The last time it happened was during the march to the team’s only Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2007.

For most of the day it didn’t appear to be headed in that direction – even for Pageau. He doesn’t particularly like afternoon games and wasn’t feeling any good vibes on his way to the rink.

"I thought I ate too much before the game," said Pageau. "I had two chicken parms."

That proved to be just right, especially since he wound up logging 28 minutes 44 seconds. That was more than any other forward in the game.

His four goals came on the only four shots he put on Lundqvist.

"He’s a beauty," said Methot. "He’s a great guy. He’s a great team guy who will do anything for you, he’s funny, and I mean he works as hard as anybody out there.

"The guy’s a gamer."

Pageau once scored all three of his team’s goals in regulation during the Levis international atom tournament final in Quebec, and then added the overtime winner for good measure. He had two overtime goals against Rimouski during the Olympiques surprising run to the QMJHL final in 2011 and was an NHL rookie who had a tooth knocked out the same night he had his first playoff hat trick here.

And yet, even as the Senators got deeper into overtime on Saturday it wasn’t No. 44 they were expecting to score.

"I thought his quota was full," said Karlsson.

That’s the thing about Pageau, though.

He always gives you a little more than you expect.

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