UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- The New York Islanders haven't played a home playoff game since 2007, so you can hardly blame the team's fans for lining up outside Nassau Coliseum at 7 a.m. for Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Just one problem: the parking lot didn't open until 8 a.m.
Hours before puck drop, there was still a modest turnout in the parking lot, with loyal fans enjoying what would be an abbreviated tailgate experience before the early noon ET start. Even before ticketholders were allowed in the building, there was a palpable buzz throughout the arena.
"It's going to be sick," one young security guard said.
"I don't think I've ever seen it this busy," one usher said to another as spectators started to file into the building.
Before either team had come out for warmups, a line more than 30 feet long had already developed outside the team store. Even the team's public relations staff was so overburdened by credential request that they were forced to call in staff reinforcements from their American Hockey League team in Bridgeport. By gameday, between 150 and 200 press credentials had been assigned, far too many to fit inside the Coliseum's press box.
As in this series against the top-seeded Penguins, the last Islanders home playoff game pitted them against the No. 1 seed Buffalo Sabres. While that series was tied 1-1 coming back to Long Island, the Sabres would go on to beat the Islanders in five games. But with this quarterfinals series tied at one win apiece and thousands of orange towels distributed among fans prior to Game 3, for one day at least it appears that the Islanders are back.