It was a crowd in search of a moment, waiting to prove they could make a new home rattle like the old one.
They got it 12:31 into overtime when Thomas Hickey raced down the center of the ice to bury Brock Nelson’s pass in the back of the net for a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers in the first-ever NHL playoff game at Barclays Center. The Game 3 win put the Isles up 2-1 in their first-round series.
“The roof isn’t as old as the Coliseum was, but it sounded like it was going to come off maybe,” said defenseman Travis Harmonic. “Even before the game, we were sitting down here and you could hear the crowd chanting, ‘Let’s Go Islanders!’ I think there’s certainly been some anticipation throughout the year and then as soon as we made the playoffs that we’re ready for this game and the crowd was going to be ready.
“We wanted to make sure that we gave them a good game and we certainly did. They got their money’s worth tonight.”
Hickey’s goal was the final demonstration of the evening that this was a building ready to be rocked. It started with a frenzied pregame explosion as the Islanders took the ice for the first time in a postseason game in Brooklyn.
“We expected it to be loud and they were loud and it was a great atmosphere,” said defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “For the first playoff game here in Brooklyn a lot of faithful fans came and traveled down to Barclays and packed the house.”
A 2-0 deficit took the edge off. It was the referees, of all people, that brought it back.
Aaron Ekblad appeared to have put the Panthers up 3-0 at 4:08 of the second period before a video review overturned the goal. There were three giant bursts from the crowd that proved Barclays Center could carry a charge — the pregame celebration, the postgame celebration, and the waving off of Ekblad’s goal.
With two Florida penalties following in the next few minutes, the building stayed alive.
“We scored pretty soon after that,” said Hamonic. “The crowd gets going again. It’s tough to play in some else’s rink when the crowd’s going like that. You’ve got guys running around and hitting guys and wearing guys down and I think the crowd just feeds off it.”
It was Ryan Pulock’s blast on a 5-on-3 power play that got the Islanders on the board. By the end of the second period, the game was tied at 3.
There was uncertainty about the energy and atmosphere heading into Barclays Center’s first playoff game. But that sort of thing is never just about the building. It’s the moments on the ice and the passion of the fans and the ability of the arena to be a conduit for all of that.
“I love our fans, but I didn’t know it was going to be that good,” said Hickey. “I had goosebumps after that national anthem, just taking it all in.”
On Sunday night in Brooklyn, it all came together.
“You could tell the fans were intense,” said coach Jack Capuano. “In a playoff series like this you’re going to need your fans to be the sixth man and that’s exactly what they were tonight. It was loud."
The party started well before the game at the playoff fan-fest outside the arena. At 5 p.m. A band and DJ were alternating sets on stage, but the real rock stars were Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies and Sparky the Dragon, who were taking pictures and signing autographs.
There was a sea of blue and orange jerseys congregating outside the Barclays gates and when the doors opened at 6:30 p.m., they flooded into the arena concourse. There were instant sparks, an electric current reverberating around Barclays Center 90 minutes before the game. Even the players burrowed away could feel palpable energy in the building and they just want to feel it again.
“The fans were great,” Capuano said. “Hopefully it will be the same way Wednesday night.”