The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum is in its final days.
It's old. It's small. It lacks the amenities that NHL fans in other cities take for granted. The New York Islanders will leave the only building they've ever called home by the fall of 2015 -- unless they can find a way to move to the ultramodern Barclays Center in Brooklyn before that.
But for all its faults, the Coliseum does have one thing going for it at playoff time.
It's loud. Really, really loud.
The Islanders will be banking on the noise generated by a packed house of 16,170 fans to give them a boost when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series (12 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).
Fans on Long Island are getting their first taste of postseason hockey in six years -- the eighth-seeded Islanders qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007 on the strength of a strong performance in April that earned them the last playoff spot in the East. They looked overmatched during a 5-0 loss in Game 1 -- and with Sidney Crosby scoring twice in the first eight minutes Friday night, it appeared the Islanders would be coming home down two games.
Instead, New York rallied from a 3-1 deficit by scoring three unanswered goals for a 4-3 victory that evened the best-of-7 series at 1-1.
"We're in the series," said forward Kyle Okposo, whose third-period shot caromed into the net off goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to break a 3-3 tie. "We just wanted to come out and let them know that we're not going away."
The Islanders have been nothing if not resilient in the final weeks of the season, a trait that served them well on Friday and sent the series back to Long Island all even.
“We’ve had a few wins like that, where we had a slow start and battled back,” said center John Tavares, who was much more of a presence in Game 2 than he had been in the opener. “That’s been the story of our season. We had a great second half of the game. We really brought it, and found a way to get it done. That was a big win for us, and we’re looking forward to getting back home in front of our fans.”
Those fans have been starved for a postseason victory. This year marks the fourth straight playoff appearance in which the Islanders have opened on the road against the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference and earned a split of the first two games. But in 2003, '04 and '07, they came home and dropped both games at the Coliseum before being closed out in Game 5. The last playoff win for the Islanders came in Game 6 of the 2002 conference quarterfinals against Toronto -- a series they lost in seven games.
But that was then. This is now, and Islanders forward Matt Moulson said he's looking forward to stepping on the ice for a playoff game in front of a home crowd for the first time.
"I know our fans have been waiting a long time for this, and I look forward to getting our first game in there," Moulson told NHL Network after Friday's victory.
The Coliseum was one of the NHL's toughest stops for visiting teams in the late 1970s and into the 1980s -- its nickname was "Fort Neverlose" because the Islanders were so good in their own building, especially during the Stanley Cup years from 1980-83. But they are the only team to qualify for the playoffs this spring after posting a losing record at home -- they overcame a 10-11-3 mark at the Coliseum by going 14-6-4 on the road, the fifth-best mark in the League.
But Dan Bylsma, who was an assistant with the Islanders before becoming the bench boss in Pittsburgh, knows that the atmosphere his team will see Sunday won't resemble the one the Penguins encountered while winning their two regular-season visits.
"Our players have not seen this building the way it's going to be tomorrow," Bylsma said after Saturday's practice at the Coliseum. "It's gonna be loud, it's gonna be a pretty crazy building and one maybe we don't necessarily see all the time during the regular season."
No one on the current Islanders roster has ever played a home playoff game at the 42-year-old Coliseum. But they're eager to see how much noise a full house of playoff-hungry fans can make.
"It’s going to be loud in Uniondale," Okposo said. "The fans are going to be into it. I can't wait to play that game Sunday."
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