UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Cars began entering the parking lot at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum not long after dawn Sunday, with fans eager to take full advantage of a beautiful spring morning before heading into one of the few remaining Stanley Cup Playoff games this 43-year-old facility will ever host.
Bill Torrey, the architect of the New York Islanders' four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83, was in the building. He joined 16,169 other fans who are hoping for a few more Coliseum memories before the Islanders begin play at Barclays Center in Brooklyn this fall.
They got one when John Tavares, the face of the franchise, scored 15 seconds into overtime to give the Islanders a 2-1 win against the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round.
It's the first time the Islanders have been ahead 2-1 in a best-of-7 series since 1993. They'll bring it to the Coliseum for Game 4 on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC, MSG+).
The chants of "Let's Go Islanders" started inside the building at 11:30 a.m., about 30 minutes before Game 3 was scheduled to begin. The chants grew louder as time went on, and there was a roar when the home team took the ice for warm-ups.
As expected, the Islanders came out flying. The fourth line of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck set the tone quickly with several thunderous hits. The shots on goal were 10-0 in favor of New York before the midway point of the first period and 16-5 after 20 minutes.
"It was unbelievable," Martin said. "It's even louder than the Pittsburgh series (in 2013). Every time we had a body check and anything happened in the game, they were going crazy. They really feed energy into you as a line.
"Before the game, to be honest with you, I wasn't feeling great. [But] going out there, you get out there your first shift and you throw a couple of hits and they're going nuts. You get into it really fast."
The Islanders continued to feed off the boisterous crowd and played with an edge. After taking a hit from Capitals forward Troy Brouwer that briefly sent him to the dressing room, Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky set up Kyle Okposo's goal at 12:37 of the second period to give New York a 1-0 lead.
But defenseman Johnny Boychuk, arguably general manager Garth Snow's biggest acquisition prior to the start of the season, had his best shift with the Islanders in the final minute of second, when he blocked three shots from Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, then turned around while falling down to swat the puck out of New York's end to help kill 80 seconds of a high-sticking penalty against defenseman Brian Strait.
"It was awesome," Boychuk said. "It was extremely loud. In the first period, you could just feel after every hit, the crowd just roaring. This is probably the loudest building I've probably ever played in."
Washington played with desperation in the third period, and Nicklas Backstrom tied the game 1-1 with 6:06 remaining with the help of Ovechkin, who screened New York goalie Jaroslav Halak.
Not since May 14, 1993, had the Islanders won a playoff game in overtime, when David Volek beat Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso in Game 7 of the Patrick Division Final in Pittsburgh.
Tavares changed that almost as soon as the puck dropped in overtime, when he drove to the net and poked a shot past Capitals goalie Braden Holtby that shook the Coliseum to its core.
"I didn't sleep very well last night," Tavares said. "Lot of butterflies. You know what it was like a couple of years ago, and the anticipation for today. It was just great to see a lot of people honking the horns, out tailgating. It was a beautiful day. We just wanted to come out ready to play, and I thought we did."
The Islanders said all the right things afterward. It's a long series. They haven't won anything yet. They expect an even better effort from the Capitals on Tuesday.
But when Tavares shot the puck past Holtby in overtime, the Islanders were halfway home to their first playoff series victory in 22 years. With an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the series Tuesday, the crowd will be ready to do its part to help put the Islanders on the brink of advancing to the second round.
"I didn't think it could be any louder than when we played Pittsburgh (in the 2013 playoffs), but it was," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "Just a lot of energy in the building tonight. That's what it's about. I know there's been a lot of talk about the last year here before the team moves on, but our team has had a singular focus on what we need to do all year long. We want to make it special for the fans."
On Sunday, the citizens of Islanders Country made it special for them.