The crowd advantage that the New York Islanders receive at Nassau Coliseum has been well documented at this point.
The “Old Barn” on Hempstead Turnpike is in the middle of its swan song before the team moves seven miles west to UBS Arena next to Belmont Park, but not before it provides one more wave of nostalgia for the elder statespeople of its fan base and some more new memories for the players.
After getting the all-important split in Boston, the Islanders return home to the Coliseum on Thursday night for Game 3 of the Eastern Division final knotted up at one game apiece with the Bruins. This will be the first time since 1993 that the Coliseum will be hosting a second-round postseason game since the 1993 Patrick Division Finals where they ultimately upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games before losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final.
It’s been a long, convoluted time coming for the building and the core of its fan base to get back to even this point of the postseason — and the Islanders are ready for everything that’s planned for them.
“They’ve been bringing the noise this year in the playoffs with a few less fans and now that the building is almost full, I think it’s going to be as close to as loud as it’s ever been,” defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “Us as a team, we’re looking forward to that.”
The Coliseum will be as full as it’s been since the start of the pandemic as 12,000 fans — mostly vaccinated — will be allowed entry into the nearly 14,000-seat venue. It’s a few less fans than the nearly 18,000 that packed Boston’s TD Garden for Games 1 and 2, but Islanders fans have built a reputation of making the Coliseum one of the loudest, most hostile places to play in the NHL — and they’ll be tested on Thursday.
“TD Garden’s a really fun place to play. I think their fans really brought it and I think they feed off the crowd,” veteran forward Matt Martin said. “Fans played a huge factor in the way teams play. Our fans at Nassau have gotten us out of holes many times… The game is definitely a lot better with fans in the stands and the energy and the atmosphere and excitement that they bring.”
Sometimes, the surge of adrenaline that comes with playing in front of a raucous home crowd can compromise a team’s composure. It’s a line that Martin has no worries about toeing given the makeup of this Islanders team that has had structure drilled into their heads from the moment head coach Barry Trotz arrived three years ago.
“We have that kind of group, a mature group. We’ve learned to keep our composure pretty well under Barry,” Martin said. “I think we feed really well off our fan base. They push us through and give us the energy… hopefully they bring the same type of energy that they bring in the first round.
“This is what we play for, we love it. Bring all the noise.”