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FIRST ROUND

Islanders looking to make new playoff memories at Nassau Coliseum

Home games being played at old barn in first round against Penguins

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Clark Gillies and Bob Nystrom are founding members of the New York Islanders dynasty that featured four straight Stanley Cup championships (1980-83), so the former forwards didn't get to experience tailgating parties at Nassau Coliseum during their playing days.

 But in 2015, when the expectation was the Islanders were hosting their final playoff games at the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike with a move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn on the horizon, Gillies and Nystrom decided to hang out in the Coliseum parking lot on a Sunday afternoon before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals.

 

[RELATED: Complete Islanders vs. Penguins series coverage]

 

"We made the mistake of parking under pole No. 9," said Gillies, who wore the same number that now hangs from the Coliseum rafters. "Within a half an hour, there were 150 people standing around us, drinking our beer. It was so much fun. I'm looking forward to that atmosphere again at the Coliseum." 

The Islanders returned to their original arena this season and played 21 home games there during the regular season, with the other 20 at Barclays Center. Their playoff games also have been split; the first round will be played at the Coliseum, but all remaining home games, should they advance, will be played in Brooklyn.

And for the first time since 1988, New York has home-ice advantage in a playoff series. The Islanders, who finished second in the Metropolitan Division, play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the best-of-7 series at the Coliseum on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS2, MSG+, ATTSN-PT).

Video: Five things to know about the playoff-bound Islanders

Gillies, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002, is hoping for a long spring.

"The last thing on my bucket list is to drink out of the Stanley Cup again," he said. "I don't want to get ahead of ourselves here, but this team looks pretty good."

Barry Trotz, in his first season as Islanders coach, was on the opposite side for that series in 2015, which his Capitals won in seven games. He remembers walking from the adjacent team hotel to the Coliseum for Game 3.

He took a taxi for Games 4 and 6.

"Worst thing I ever did," Trotz said of walking to the building. "[The fans] were great as I was walking up to them, but as soon as I got a few yards away, then I started getting beat up a little bit … but that's great. I just love the passion that they have for this area and this team. I know there's been some great glory years, and some difficult years. The passion is still there."

Video: Islanders, Penguins clash in rematch of 2013 series

It's been a special season for these Islanders, who were expected by many to finish near the bottom of the NHL standings after losing center John Tavares on July 1, when he signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

But just like he said he would, Trotz fixed the defensive issues New York experienced last season; it went from allowing the most goals in the NHL (293) to the fewest (191). And instead of going without a captain, Anders Lee was named captain the morning of the season opener. 

Lee has embraced the Islanders' history since being selected by New York in the sixth round (No. 152) in the 2009 NHL Draft, and he's eager to help write the next chapter.

"I think the second I became an Islander when I was drafted here, that first rookie camp, I remember just coming into (the former practice rink in) Syosset and seeing all those banners, the four Cups, learning about the dynasty, learning about all the Hall of Fame players that have come before us and all the important people that made what it is to be an Islander today … we want to not only honor that, but create our own traditions and our own little set of history," Lee said. 

The chase for the fifth Stanley Cup championship starts Wednesday, in the building once called "Fort Neverlose," the arena where Nystrom's overtime goal in Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers started one of the greatest dynasties in sports history.

"People love this building because this is the fabric of Long Island," Nystrom said. "This is the Islanders. Couldn't ask for anything more." 

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