For real this time, this is the last hurrah for the Nassau Coliseum, which is hosting its final set of Stanley Cup Playoff games beginning with Game 3 on Thursday night before the Islanders move seven miles west to UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
It has certainly been a drawn-out goodbye that was originally said six years ago when the Islanders lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Washington Capitals in seven games — their final action before moving to Brooklyn in an ill-fated, short-lived stay at Barclays Center.
During UBS Arena’s construction, the Islanders returned home to the Coliseum — their original home since their inception in 1972 — in 2018 with a trip to the playoffs quickly following in the spring of 2019. The first round saw the Islanders sweep the very same Penguins in a major upset before being trounced out of the second round by the Carolina Hurricanes; those games being played at Barclays Center.
Following the full-time, temporary move back to the Coliseum for the 2019-20 season, the building was robbed of a magical run to the Eastern Conference Final due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the NHL to return to postseason play in August inside Toronto and Edmonton-based bubbles.
Now, finally, Thursday night provides a return to playoff hockey to the renovated Old Barn as the Islanders look to get back in front of the Penguins after splitting the first two games in Pittsburgh.
“It seems we’ve had this conversation three times about shutting this place down,” Islanders veteran winger Cal Clutterbuck said. “So you can pull my quotes from 2015 or 2017 or 2019. But this is it, so let’s focus on sending this off with a bang.”
After New York State further eased capacity limits at indoor venues, the Islanders will have roughly 7,200 fans in attendance for Game 3, the team confirmed on Wednesday. It will be the fullest they’ve seen the building since early 2020, and their appetite to see it only grew after seeing the turnout in Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Arena for Games 1 and 2.
“It just gets me excited to get to the Coliseum,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “That’s the biggest thing. It was nice to play in front of fans again and I think we’re allowed a little bit more for our next game. It’ll be fun, it’ll be loud.”
A little bit more is an understatement from Mayfield. The last time the Islanders played at the Coliseum, only 1,400 fans were allowed in the building. Now with the building at more than half its capacity, the decibel levels of one of the loudest buildings in the NHL will finally be cranked up once again.
“It’s getting back to normal, that’s for sure,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “It’s great. It raises the emotional level for the home team and it’s good. It seems strange. It’s been quiet for the last little while now.
“I have people yelling at me and the team and you can’t hear on the bench. It’s a good feeling to be back to that. It brings juice to the game, it brings emotion, it brings all that.”
“We’re in the business of emotion. That’s what sports are,” he continued. “There’s some great emotion on both sides — both good, bad, and indifferent. I’m glad to have the fans back. It’s a delight to be back behind the bench and you can’t hear yourself think at times because the crowd’s great. That’s what we’re looking forward to when we get back to the Island. Hopefully, our fans will give us that boost to get over the top.”
The puck drops for Game 3 at 7 p.m. ET.