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Islanders hope home crowd will give edge vs. Capitals

by Brian Compton

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Nassau Coliseum won't be the home of the New York Islanders for much longer, but they're hoping to make the most of the time they have left there. 

After splitting the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals, the best-of-7 series shifts to what is expected to be a raucous Coliseum on Sunday (12 p.m. ET; NBC, TVA Sports, SN).

The Islanders failed to protect a two-goal lead in Game 2 on Friday at Verizon Center and lost 4-3, but they are presented with an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the series with a couple of wins on home ice.

"We're looking forward to it," New York captain John Tavares said. "I think we know what it's been like here all year. It's certainly been very special. It's going to be great. We want to use it to our advantage, but at the same time we've got to stay composed, stay disciplined like we have been and control our emotions. There's a lot of ups and downs in the game and we've got to make sure we play hard and do the right things from start to finish."

The Coliseum was rocking when the Islanders faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a series New York lost in six games. After failing to qualify for the postseason last spring, the Islanders made several improvements to their roster and despite a slump down the stretch, won 25 games at home this season.

Now, with home-ice advantage back in their favor, the Islanders have a golden opportunity to win their first playoff series since 1993. All they have to do is take care of business here.

One thing is certain: They will have more than 16,000 people in their corner on Sunday.

"It's going to be an exciting time," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "As I told them, we've got a different group than we had in the Pittsburgh series. We're a little bit more mature now even though we have some young players. We have a little swagger and confidence in certain guys. We had a real good extensive video [session] this morning to show the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 and how guys have to play. This is their time.

"We have to use it to our advantage. Even [Friday] in Washington, it was loud. They gained some energy, especially in that second period through their crowd. That's what playoff hockey is all about. No matter what building you're at, you get to play at home, obviously it's an exciting time not only for the players, but for the fans. We've fed off this crowd all year. I think our home record's improved. We've done a good job. I think we could have won a few more games here, but it's a big reason why we had the home record that we had."

Knowing how electric the atmosphere is expected to be at opening faceoff, the Islanders are hoping to feed off the energy and get off to a fast start. It would certainly help rid the pain of blowing 2-0 and 3-1 leads in Game 2.

"I'm excited," New York forward Josh Bailey said. "I think everyone that was a part of that knows what it's like and it's going to be tough to sleep tonight, thinking about that. It's definitely exciting but we want to be on top of our game and give them something to cheer about."

The Islanders won their two home games against the Capitals during the regular season, with each requiring overtime. Washington coach Barry Trotz said he enjoys the Coliseum and expects the crowd to be a factor Sunday.

"We've had some tremendous games here this year," Trotz said. "Great atmosphere. There's something to be said about the older buildings. You see it in every sport. You see it at Wrigley Field or Fenway [Park], all these places. I watch TV and I watch the games back when I was growing up and they have that good feel."

Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin didn't seem too concerned about the Coliseum crowd and wondered if it will match the atmosphere in Washington for Game 2.

"I don't think it's going to be as loud as Verizon [Center], but we'll see," Ovechkin said.


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