Absorbing the ire of 14,000 Pittsburgh Penguins fans the previous two games provided a welcome bit of pre-pandemic normalcy to the New York Islanders. Now the Islanders get one more chance to enjoy one of the most unique home-ice advantages in sports.
The Islanders are scheduled to begin their final postseason run at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night, when New York hosts the Penguins in Game 3 of an Eastern Conference first-round series in Uniondale, N.Y.
The Penguins, who won the East Division, evened the series at a game apiece Tuesday night, when Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter scored in the first period and Tristan Jarry made 37 saves in a 2-1 win.
The game ended with a power play opportunity for the Islanders, who pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov about 13 seconds before Rust was whistled for closing his hand on the puck. But New York got just one shot against Jarry as the roaring and towel-waving sellout crowd of 9,344 — twice the capacity allowed for Game 1 — generated the type of buzz missing in arenas since March 2020.
“I’m glad to have the fans back,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said. “It really is, I’ll say, a delight to be back behind the bench and you can’t hear yourself think and the crowd’s great. That’s what we’re looking for when we get back to the Island. Our fans will hopefully give us that boost we need to get over the top.”
A crowd of about 7,200 — a little more than 50 percent of Nassau Coliseum’s usual capacity of 13,813 — is expected Thursday for what will actually be the start of the Islanders’ second final playoff run at the cozy and noisy Coliseum, which was dubbed “Fort Neverlose” when the franchise won four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s.
The Coliseum originally closed following a seven-game first-round loss to Trotz’s Washington Capitals in the spring of 2015. But New York lasted just three full seasons at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before beginning construction on a new hockey-specific arena at the Nassau/Queens border.
The Islanders split the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons between Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum before moving back to the Coliseum full-time this season. They are scheduled to move into UBS Arena in October.
Any hopes of extending the final playoff run beyond a single round likely rests on the Islanders — who finished fourth in the East Division — getting off to quicker starts than they did in Pittsburgh. While Kyle Palmieri scored the series’ first goal in the first period of Game 1 Sunday, New York was outshot 26-21 and trailed 2-1 after two periods before mounting a third period comeback and earning a 4-3 win when Palmieri scored with 3:30 left in overtime.
On Tuesday, the Islanders were outshot 19-13 in the first period and never quite titled the ice against the Penguins.
“We’re just trying to get out there and get to our game as fast as we can,” Rust said. “Get out there, have a good start, create some momentum. Obviously, when you score the first goal, there’s no better way of doing that.”
Josh Bailey scored in the second period Tuesday for the Islanders, who have collected just four first-period goals in their last seven games dating back to May 3.
“There’s no magic pill that I can give everybody — ‘Take this and have a good start,'” Trotz said. “It’s on the room to do that. They know.”
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who missed the first two games with an undisclosed injury, is expected to travel to New York. Malkin played in Pittsburgh’s final four regular-season games after missing the previous 23 contests with a lower body injury.
–Field Level Media