It’s do-or-die for the New York Islanders and Nassau Coliseum.
Trailing 3-2 in their first round series, the Islanders will fight to stave off elimination when they host the Washington Capitals at 3 p.m. A win pushes the series to a decisive Game 7, while a loss ends the Islanders season and closes their 43-year run at the Coliseum.
“At some point it was going to come to this, right?” Head Coach Jack Capuano said. “We have a chance in our building to take it to a Game 7. Our backs were up against the wall a lot this year. We’ve responded really well and I think we’ll do the same tomorrow.”
At least their backs are up against the home walls of Nassau Coliseum. The Islanders know they’ll have 16,170 screaming fans behind them when the puck drops Saturday afternoon.
“There’s going to be a lot of emotion in the building,” Capuano said. “The fans have been great. We work as a unit of one here. We’ve built a lot of energy off them.”
Extending the season is the paramount objective, but there’s the added motivation of ensuring that the old barn will see another day. The Islanders know what’s at stake and they’ve made it known their Alamo isn’t going down just yet.
“We know what it means to our fans. That can’t be the last game there, it can’t be the last game for them,” Thomas Hickey said Thursday. “We’re going to come with our heads on and be ready to play and make sure that it’s not the last game there. We have to find a way.”
Saturday’s crowd will be enthusiastic, but likely also a little nervous, given what’s on the line. It’s been an emotional series, but Kyle Okposo stressed the need to channel that energy in a positive way and not let emotions get the better of the Islanders.
“We need to keep our emotions in check and make sure that we are focusing on the right things,” Okposo said. “We’re a little bit banged up, but it gives other guys an opportunity to step up. You’re going to have to deal with injuries as a team and we have to find a way to put together a full team and get a big win.”
The Islanders were already without Travis Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky for Game Five and may be without Calvin de Haan for Game Six. De Haan left the third period of Thursday’s game after taking a hit from Troy Brouwer and did not return, or practice with the team Friday.
Griffin Reinhart beat out Ryan Pulock as the fill-in for Visnovsky on Thursday. Pulock, Matt Donovan and Scott Mayfield are also candidates to fill in on defense Saturday, though Capuano offered no hints as to who would get the nod.
“We’ve had injuries during the year,” Tavares said. “We’ve found a way to win hockey games and play well. At this time of year it gets heightened and we’re missing some defensive guys, some big presence, but we just have to be better. Individually we still believe in our group. We’ve responded to adversity well, we’ve overcome a lot this year and it’s another chance for that if we want to keep playing.”