OTTAWA -- The roar of the crowd still rang in my ears as I boarded my flight back to Ottawa for Game 5, recalling what had taken place the last time I was in Canadian Tire Centre. Jean-Gabriel Pageau had just finished off one of the all-time playoff performances, a four-goal masterpiece capped by the double-overtime game-winner in front of his hometown crowd in Game 2.
After the game had ended, he divulged the secret to his success.
"Three p.m. games are pretty hard," Pageau said of his preparation. "I thought I eat too much before the game. I had two chicken parm."
So, faced with another 3 p.m. start on Saturday, I knew what I had to do to get some of that magic for myself: I had to eat two chicken parms, Pageau-style.
Fortunately, the Ottawa Senators had advertised on their Twitter feed that Canadian chicken giant Pinty's was setting up a booth with chicken parmesan sandwiches in the outdoor fan area called the Red Zone. After New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did his regular pregame availability, I prevailed upon colleague Dan Rosen to venture out with me to find the fabled chicken parm. I handed over my $20 and, after they opened a chafing dish to reveal the bounty, soon had claimed my prizes, a double dose of fried goodness.
Or fried mediocrity, as I soon found out.
The challenge commenced at 1:24 p.m. My only mandate, I felt, was to finish the chicken parms well before the start of warmups, as I assumed Pageau had. No problem, I thought. I got this, I thought. I was a bit confused when, midway through the first one, I found it was covered in tiny pieces of red pepper. Those don't belong in there, I thought, removing the offending vegetables.
"Needs more sauce," I mentioned, to Rosen, who promptly tweeted my assessment.
By 2:12 p.m., halfway through the second sandwich and after a change of venue from the downstairs media room to the press box, I was slowing. I could sense potential consequences to my binge, finished in exactly 57 minutes. By 3:06 p.m., as the game presentation was underway, I reached for the Tums, pleased to have planned ahead.
Fatigue set in after the first period, though it's possible that was the inevitable lull after 20 minutes of intense, wild, edge-of-the-seat hockey -- or the accumulated results of what I had put my body through this week in the name of NHL.com, a list that now includes popcorn chicken poutine, fried pickles, the Ottawa fried dough treat known as the BeaverTail, a chocolate-dipped and dulce de leche-covered ice cream cone, a New York bagel, and now, finally, two chicken parms.
But I perked up by the third, in plenty of time to complete my post-game duties and set out for a well-deserved, decidedly non-parmed dinner in Kanata, Ontario.
How did I perform, you might ask? Did I honor Pageau and his legacy with my performance? You can be the judge. It might not have been four-goals-and-an-overtime-winner worthy, but I think I served my mentor well.
Now it's back to New York, where I'm looking forward to three days of steamed broccoli and massaged kale. Though, now that I think about it, I haven't had corned beef or a black-and-white cookie lately …