Nine months ago, when the Islanders made it to the conference finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in nearly 30 years, the Nassau Coliseum was dark, empty and silent.
The islanders were playing the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the games were staged in a separate bubble in Edmonton, Alberta, where spectators were barred due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But on Thursday, things largely returned to normal on the ground, where the islanders have played the majority of their home games since their inception in 1972. Nearly 13,000 ardent fans, many dressed in blue and orange jerseys of their favorite players. Side by side in an old concrete barn to welcome their team to an NHL conference final—the first time in 28 years that Islander fans were able to see the man.
“It looks like everything is back as it should be,” said Jorge Pignataro, a retired bank executive from nearby Masapequa, before Game 3, once again against the Lightning, in Uniondale, the new sign of the game’s lively return. epicenter said. In the greater New York area, after months of closure due to the pandemic.
Tampa Bay won 2–1, and grabbed two games for an advantage in the Stanley Cup semi-final series. Game 4 is a Saturday in what may be the last Islanders home game ever at the Coliseum. Tampa Bay, the defending Stanley Cup champions, are 6-1 on the road in the playoffs and showed their mettle in a charged reception season.
“It was what got us through this,” Lightning coach John Cooper said. “If we’re going to come here in Game 4 and do the same thing we’re going to need it again.”
For Pignataro and his wife, Barbara, who were season ticket holders for 42 years, along with passionate Islander fans, the game and the series represent a double reawakening. After months of isolation and lockdown, life is starting to return to normal in the New York area, and sports teams have joined welcome back fans by thousands.
The Yankees and Mets are playing to an increasingly large crowd, with more than 16,000 at Citi Field on Thursday and more than 19,000 at Yankee Stadium for a game against the Red Sox earlier this month.
at Barclays Center, islander’s abbreviation During an ill-conceived entrance in Brooklyn in 2015, the Nets played the Milwaukee Bucks in a crucial Game 5 of their NBA playoff series in front of 16,000 enthusiastic fans.
But the Nets are a relatively new phenomenon in Brooklyn (they moved there from New Jersey in 2012), and their roots are not as firmly etched into the fabric of the community as the islanders on Long Island have had for nearly half a century. is.
also with 3,000 more fans At Barclays Center than at the Coliseum, they’d be hard-pressed to make more noise than Islander fans hoping to re-live old glory under four championship banners, which hang from a low ceiling that intensifies the cacophony below. .
Since the return of fans to stadiums in the New York area, nothing matches the intensity of what is happening in Uniondale.
“Island fans are a different breed,” said Billy Jaffe, an analyst covering the series for NHL Network. Jaffe also worked as an analyst on Islanders Broadcast for five years a decade earlier. “It’s just a unique, intense fan base, and they’ve been waiting for that for a long time.”
Like Pignataros, Jaffe was referring to the duality of that waiting. In the immediate sense, it has been about returning to the building to shout, chant, sing and bang on the glass together.
In a larger sense, it is about the re-emergence of top-flight hockey, a sign that it is sustainable under Lou Lamoriello, president and general manager, and head coach Barry Trotz, both of whom won the Stanley Cup elsewhere.
Jaffe said the Islanders are one of the most respected teams around the NHL, and now that they’re back on Long Island for good — they’re expected to open up. their new arena The bond between the team and Long Island fans is renewed – in the fall at Elmont.
“It looks like Islanders fans have ownership of their team again,” Jaffe said. “It’s like they feel they are allowed to re-invest.”
As in the previous playoff series against the Boston Bruins, unmasked fans sang the national anthem so vocally, and so in tune, that actual appointed vocalist Nicole Raviv graciously removed her microphone and allowed the audience in—months later. Of quiet solitude – to rumble, not that anyone could hear him, anyway.
“It’s as intense and loud as a big Premier League soccer game,” said Bruce Clauston, a 28-year-old corporate insurance executive from Australia, on his way to Northumberland in the UK. He moved to Brooklyn three years ago and became a fan of the island. He went on to two regular season games after the team opened the ground to fans on a limited basis on 18 March.
The numbers have grown to almost full capacity, with about 900 vacant seats near the bench and where teams enter the ice. Thursday’s crowd included talk show host Jimmy Fallon, actor Ralph Macchio and several Jets football players who attended the celebration.
It was also Clauston’s sixth playoff game this year. When Ailes scored in the last round, he hugged the immaculate strangers sitting next to him. (A handful of people politely put up signs requesting fans to wear masks, but almost no one did.)
On Thursday, upon getting off the commuter train from Brooklyn, Clauston accepted a fan ride he had just met.
“It would never have happened a few months ago,” he said.
For almost all of Game 3, Clauston and his fellow fans roared for their team. But at the last minute, as the islanders struggled to establish themselves in the offensive zone, many fans grumbled and incited a perceived lack of urgency.
The Islanders have rekindled the passion of their fans and everything that comes with it.