EDMONTON — Back when we had fans filling arenas with atmosphere and the Ottawa Senators were playing playoff games, we’d occasionally hear them break out in song with “Pageau, Pageau, Pageau, Pageau …” at the Canadian Tire Centre.
It was an homage to Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the uber-competitive kid from across the bridge in Gatineau who had an uncanny knack for big-time performances in the biggest games.
Apparently some things change, while others stay the same.
Pageau is still a gamer as his two-point performance showed here Friday night. But the fact he’s now doing it as an increasingly trusted member of the New York Islanders brotherhood stands out.
The trust level in Pageau is already so high that when Casey Cizikas was deemed unfit to play for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final, head coach Barry Trotz plugged him in between Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin.
That’s part-symbolism, part-hockey decision. That line basically sums up what these Islanders are all about. Cizikas has played the game the hard way for this organization over nine seasons and carries clout that can’t be measured on the stats sheet.
“Casey is one of those guys that is infectious in your dressing room, he’s been an Islander since he’s come into the league, he’s a big part of the identity that we have and so when you lose those guys sometimes … it does affect your room,” Trotz said after a spirited, season-saving 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. “But I think the response by the group was really good. We put Pageau in that spot and he gets a goal and an assist and he’s got a lot of the characteristics that Casey has when it comes to compete and conviction and all of those things.
“That’s high on Pager’s list as well as being a good player. You know it made that line very effective again.”
That will not be news to the fans in Ottawa, who saw Pageau sign a $30-million, six-year extension with the Islanders on the same day he was traded out of town in February.
Inside the NHL bubble, he’s giving everything he has for his new employer. We already saw him win the team’s ping-pong tournament after showing up to the final like a fighter wearing a bathrobe and with the Islanders gasping for air against Tampa on Friday night he showed up with an oxygen tank.
In the minutes Martin-Pageau-Clutterbuck saw against Tampa’s equivalent — Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow — the ice was tilted heavily in the Islanders’ favour.
“They’re three very competitive guys,” said Trotz. “They got on the forecheck, they can get pucks back to the net, they can make those quick plays. That Gourde line is a competitive line with Goodrow and Coleman. You get six competitive guys going at it, tonight it was in our favour.”
New York’s “DNA Line” opened the scoring when Clutterbuck beat Andrei Vasilevkiy after that trio created chaos in the offensive zone. They also put the Islanders back up 2-1 when Pageau created an open look for Adam Pelech with a lovely touch pass.
After Tampa stormed back to tie the game 3-3 in the third period, and Brock Nelson restored the Islanders’ edge, it was Pageau who iced it. He blocked a shot and then took several hard whacks from Nikita Kucherov while skating down the ice and physically confronted the Lightning star after putting the puck in the empty net.
“I think he’s a competitor,” Pageau said of Kucherov. “I think he was trying to get a stick on the puck and he got the back of my leg so he wasn’t too close. I mean we’re going to battle.”
When the temperature is turned up most Pageau seems to be at his best.
He’s scored goals at a much better per-game rate in the playoffs than during the regular season throughout his NHL career (.37-.20) and amassed points at a better clip (.50-.42), too.
Pageau played all the way to Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final, where the Senators were beaten in double overtime by Pittsburgh. He clearly understood how vital this night was to New York’s chances after falling behind 2-0 in the series and helped give the Islanders new life in a series that is suddenly full of fire and life.
“I mean we’re in the conference final,” said Pageau. “You’ve got to expect both teams to go out there and go as hard as they can and try to play for each other. If there’s one thing about our group, it’s that everyone’s really stepping up for each other.
“I’ve said it earlier, it’s a brotherhood here for the Islanders and we really saw that tonight. That everyone’s stepping up for each other and playing till the end for each other.”
You won’t find many NHL players capable of giving more.