The most raucous home ice advantage in the National Hockey League was back in business.
The noise level from the 16,170 fans who packed Nassau Coliseum during each of the three playoff games made the barn on Hempstead Turnpike a most unwelcome place for visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, and helped the Islanders find an extra gear during the series.
“It was unbelievable how rowdy and loud it got in there,” defenseman Brian Strait said. “All my friends and family who came to the game, as well as the players on the ice, said it was probably the loudest building they’d ever been in. Any time you have a home crowd like that, I think the adrenaline helps you. It got us off to a great start in all three games here.”
The Islanders took the ice to a standing ovation and scored first in each contest at the Coliseum, and never lost in regulation on home ice. Matt Martin said the atmosphere reminded him of stories he’s heard from Islanders greats who entertained the Long Island faithful years ago.
“The energy in the building was something we talked about a lot in the room,” Martin said. “They were big for us late in games, when we were trailing, with how loud they were, helping us get back into games. It was exciting - it was fun. You hear people talk about it a lot – how fun it used to be, how cool it was to play in the Coliseum, and it was really cool to be able to experience it for ourselves.”
The chants of “M-V-P” for Hart Trophy Candidate John Tavares continued well after the Penguins ended Game 6 in overtime Saturday, and when the two sides lined up to shake hands in one of hockey’s best traditions following the series, the crowd erupted in a “Let’s go Islanders” chant.
Though the players in orange and blue were upset to see their first playoff appearance since 2007 come to an end, many were moved by the postgame response.
“That was great,” said sixth-year Islanders forward Kyle Okposo. “It showed that the fans have a lot of faith in us and they enjoyed what we did this year. That was pretty special to see. Everybody stood up and started chanting, even after we lost, and that was a pretty neat feeling.”
Twenty-six of the 35 players on New York’s playoff roster are under 30 years of age. Okposo added that for a team beginning to put the pieces together and striving for greater goals in the future, the passion shown at the Coliseum during the last half of the season, especially during the playoffs, will serve as extra motivation.
“Getting a taste of it, you see what it’s like, and what the fans are like,” Okposo said. “The games feel different. That’s fun. We want to be there every year. We don’t want to get bounced out like we did this year. We want to go all the way.”