OTTAWA - Jean-Gabriel Pageau has gone from American Hockey League hopeful to playing for his hometown team in the NHL playoffs.
The Ottawa Senators forward from Gatineau, Que., across the Ottawa River form the nation's capital, should have a vocal contingent of fans at Scotiabank Place when he suits up for the first home playoff game of his NHL career on Sunday.
The Senators and Canadiens enter the game tied at 1-1 in the best-of-seven first-round series after splitting the first two games at Montreal's Bell Centre.
Pageau's unlikely run comes a little more after he wrapped up his junior career on a playoff run with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens after being dealt from his hometown Olympiques at the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League trade deadline.
"It didn't expect this," Pageau said of being in the NHL playoffs so soon.
"At the beginning of the year I was just trying to make the Binghamton Senators of the American League. Now that I have the chance to play here in the playoffs and tonight in my first home game it's going to be really special.
"I'm just going to try and enjoy it. Sometimes I don't even realize what's going on."
Pageau has made a statement in his brief time with the Senators. He played in the final nine games of the regular season and had two game-winning goals and two assists and spent time on the Senators' top line with Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek in the playoffs.
That's a big step forward for an undersized fourth-round pick who started the year on the fourth line in Binghamton.
Both teams were loose and relaxed during their 30-minute skates Sunday morning.
"It's nice to be back at home and be back in front of our own crowd and hopefully they'll be behind us tonight," said Senators forward Zach Smith.
"It could be as loud as it's been in a few years and it's exciting. We have a good rivalry and they tend to have a few fans here too so they have good support. We know our fans are going to be there."
"Game time decision," is what Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said repeatedly when asked of the possibility of injured players returning.
"In the playoffs you have to play hard and you have to play with intensity. We have to make sure we're doing the same thing."
The Canadiens are still showing confidence from their 3-1 win Friday following an opening game 4-2 loss Thursday.
"It was a tough first loss for us there in Montreal," forward Michael Ryder said. "You want to get off to a good start in the series and I think we should a lot of character the last game with a few guys out and we managed to get the win. We need to get one now here in Ottawa to get home ice again and I think tonight is going to be all about our start and I think we have the momentum."
Game 4 of the series is Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place and the teams will head back to Montreal for Game 5 Thursday.
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