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Hostile Nassau Coliseum creates safe haven for Islanders in playoffs - Metro US

Hostile Nassau Coliseum creates safe haven for Islanders in playoffs

Josh Bailey scored the game-winner in overtime for the Islanders in Game 1 against the Penguins. (Photo: Getty Images)
Josh Bailey scored the game-winner in overtime for the Islanders in Game 1 against the Penguins. (Photo: Getty Images)
Hostility. 
 
It’s a word used often in sports, though mostly for the descriptions of rivalries between teams and players. 
 
In today’s NHL, you’d be hardpressed to describe a building as hostile. 

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Yet that is exactly what the Nassau Coliseum was on Wednesday night for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals as the New York Islanders hosted their first playoff series opener in 31 years. 

 
The building once known as “Fort Neverlose,” — or in times of ineptitude “The Mausoleum” — now simply known as “The Old Barn,” was rocked to its core on Wednesday night as the Islanders took Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal 4-3 over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night. 
 
It was a night Islanders fans, or players never thought would happen again after the franchise moved to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. 
 
 But those clad in blue and orange were given a reprieve by the NHL in the first round of the series, and Islanders fans ensured that the refurbished building — which still has its old bones — hit new decibel levels in its 47-year history. 
 
“Yeah, it was loud,” said forward Jordan Eberle, who tallied the Islanders’ first goal of the night just two minutes into the game. “They know how to keep us in the game… Hopefully, we’ll keep riding this for the entire series.”
 
The Islanders and their fans have been treated like second-class citizens over the past three decades after a complete nosedive following their dynastic run from 1980-83.
 
The Coliseum sagged and crumbled beneath their feet while the Town of Hempstead did nothing to help. Corrupt politicians said no to renovations, no to the Lighthouse Project, no to the team as it packed its bags and moved to Brooklyn in 2015. 
 
Management ran the team into the ground. Top players were traded, the uniform changed to that featuring a fisherman, a con artist almost bought the team. 
 
John Tavares turned into Benedict Arnold in the eyes of untold thousands as he hightailed it off the Island and back home to Toronto. 
 
And the most loyal fans in hockey simply stuck with it all. 
 
Back at the Coliseum, in a postseason no one expected the Islanders to be, against a Penguins team that has become the crown jewel of the NHL, the fans aired their grievances. 
 
Especially when two Tom Kuhnhackl goals were disallowed, Josh Bailey hit a post with seven seconds left in regulation after the Penguins tied this up at three apiece just a minute earlier, all while the referees seemingly put their whistles away.
 
Hostility.
 
Decades of frustrations reverberating through the rafters.
 
Despite its facelift, the Coliseum is a throwback to the old-style NHL buildings. The fans are on top of you and for the opponent, they’re practically breathing down your neck. 
 
It’s not a fun place to play if you’re a visitor and the building is full.
 
“The building was loud,” Penguins forward Jake Guentzel said. “It’s their home ice and we knew they were going to come out strong.”
 
It’s almost like hockey heaven if you call the place home.
 
The Coliseum faithful showed their adoration to his year’s edition of the downtrodden franchise, a ragtag afterthought of players headed by a Hall-of-Fame executive in Lou Lamoriello and a future Hall-of-Fame coach in Barry Trotz, who lifted the Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals just 10 months ago. 
 
They chanted for goaltender Robin Lehner, the NHL’s feel-good story of the year who turned away 41 of 44 shots Penguins shots on Wednesday night. 
 
“It was amazing, as always,” said Lehner. “It’s special. I don’t understand how they can scream for that long, but good for them.”
 
They exploded into a sound-barrier-breaking force when Nick Leddy scored a third-period tally with seven minutes left to give the Islanders a 3-2 lead.
 
They almost took the roof off the building when veteran Josh Bailey — the longest-tenured Islander — snapped in the game-winner off Mathew Barzal’s hit post 4:39 into overtime. 
 
“It was great. Obviously, I’ve been through it before here,” Bailey said. “I think you find a way to control yourself a little bit better, but you still can’t help but get those jitters before you go out there. That’s what it’s all about.”
 
There isn’t much time to enjoy it as Game 2 is back at the Coliseum on Friday night.
 
“The crowd was crazy,” said Barzal, who made his playoff debut in Game 1. “We love playing here. It was nuts. Being a young guy, first taste of the playoffs, it was definitely exciting. I’m looking forward to Friday.”
 

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