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Islanders get dramatic win in return to Nassau Coliseum

Play first game at their former home since 2015, defeat Flyers on Tavares' OT goal in preseason opener

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- They never have and likely never will write a Hollywood script off a preseason game, but this was pretty good.

New York Islanders captain John Tavares, who scored his first NHL goal in this old/renovated barn on Hempstead Turnpike eight years ago, shook it to its core one more time when he scored 34 seconds into overtime in a 3-2 win against the Philadelphia Flyers at the place they now call NYCB Live, Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.


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It was Tavares' first trip back here since the Islanders packed their belongings in the spring of 2015 and headed to Barclays Center. When Tavares pulled in Sunday morning, he saw hundreds of die-hard fans already tailgating and partying like it was 1982, when this place was nicknamed "Fort Neverlose."

"I think we had a good sense that was going to happen," Tavares said. "That was such a great part of Islanders hockey and who the Islanders are. A lot of weekend afternoon games or even Saturday (night) home games, people out there in the parking lot, obviously a lot of space, just enjoying the atmosphere of what it was to be an Islander fan. It was great that they got to enjoy that again.

"This place is very meaningful to this organization and the identity of this organization for a reason."

The Islanders did everything they could to make the fans feel like they were back home. Co-owner Jon Ledecky hung out with fans in the parking lot. Joe Duerr, who performed the national anthem on a nightly basis when the Islanders won the Stanley Cup four years in a row (1980-83), was back in his old role. Bobby Nystrom, who scored the overtime goal against the Flyers in 1980 to give the Islanders their first championship, was at center ice with former teammates Clark Gillies and Billy Smith for the ceremonial opening faceoff.

"There are some players who don't even know what this is about," said Ed Tierney, who grew up in Huntington, New York, and currently lives in Manhattan. "There's kids who don't know what this is about. It's cool to see everyone back."

Oh, and there was a game to play, the Islanders' first here since their Game 6 win against the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference First Round in 2015. In pure Coliseum fashion, the Islanders fell behind 2-0 in the second period before Tavares and center Mathew Barzal tied it.

Tavares won it when he skated from the right circle into the slot and got a wrist shot past Flyers goalie Leland Irving to send the capacity crowd of 13,917 -- there are 2,253 fewer seats here after the renovation -- smiling from ear to ear.

"It had obviously the atmosphere like most Saturday home games when we were here, and even pretty close to what we had in the playoffs," Tavares said. "It was just through the roof coming out in warm-ups and certainly the start of the game, hearing the 'Let's go Islanders' chants and the 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' chants were prominent again."

For one day, the Islanders were back where it all began. And, fittingly, it was their captain who provided one more great memory.

"That's not at all dramatic," Islanders coach Doug Weight joked. "It was a nice way to do it, for sure. Listen, it's mid-September. We're here for a reason and a purpose. It was a really cool thing to be able to come back and play. It was very exciting and it turned out to be great. It's a good thing for everybody, for the fans and our team."

Where the Islanders will play long-term appears to be in limbo; they are expected to submit plans to build an arena next to Belmont Park by the end of September. It doesn't seem economically feasible for them to make the Coliseum their permanent residence again, but Tavares was pleased to give the fans a chance to return to the building where many of them grew up watching hockey games.

"You start to drive to the rink, even a couple of days leading up, there's still a lot of good memories, a lot of thoughts even walking through the halls a little bit, just trying to enjoy it," Tavares said. "Who knows whatever happens down the road, but certainly having an opportunity here, you wanted to take advantage of it and just try to enjoy it and play hard. It was a fun game to be a part of. It kind of had a little bit of everything.

"Getting out there, just the areas on the ice and just the way things visually felt, it felt very similar. The atmosphere, that was great to hear again. Just with the low ceiling, and the seats just kind of on top of you, how it just echoes off the walls … it just gives you kind of a jolt through your body. It makes your hairs kind of stand up on end. When you've got that type of atmosphere and that passion and the identity of our fans bring, they don't lose it. They definitely don't forget. It was fun to be out there."

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