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O say, can those Islanders fans sing!

Reader Sean R. Strockyj writes an Expressway essay

Reader Sean R. Strockyj writes an Expressway essay about the Islanders’ 2021 playoff games. Credit: Sean R. Strockyj

Who could forget Whitney Houston’s legendary rendition of the national anthem before the 1991 Super Bowl? Or Lady Gaga’s rousing effort in 2016? Add to that list a sellout crowd of 12,000 vocal Islanders fans who helped a singer in need on June 5 at Nassau Coliseum.

Nicole Raviv, who first started singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" for the Islanders on a regular basis before the 2019-20 season, was doing fine this particular Saturday night — until her mic went dead.

But the fans picked up the mantle, helping her finish the anthem even after her sound system returned near the end. Maybe it spurred the Islanders to defeat the Boston Bruins, 4-1, to even their Stanley Cup quarterfinal series at two games apiece.

"The crowd came to the rescue,’’ Raviv told Newsday reporter Colin Stephenson. "The fans, they sang with me. And we just kept going together."

And the Islanders kept going, too. On June 9, having won Game 5 in Boston, the Islanders got a chance to clinch on home ice. NBC shared with viewers another powerful, although perhaps less impromptu, rendition of the anthem before Game 6.

The party started early when Raviv lowered her mic after the opening words, inviting the crowd to join in, letting them carry the lyrics alone up to "O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave," when she ably brought it home. And so did the Islanders, who won, 4-2, to advance to the semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Everyday fans, a force so important in any popular sport, along with Raviv, created one of the great times in any competition since the start of the pandemic. Local news outlets, and even national news, thought so, too, picking up on this special moment.

It illustrated the bond between the team and crowd. Without fans, empty arenas and stadiums were ugly spectacles, and winning moments rang hollow last year. Something was missing and seemed sterile when the Dodgers, Lakers and Lightning all won championships with hardly any fans to create theater and atmosphere.

The inspiring anthem response and the Islanders’ revival have given us one of the transcendent moments since the lockdown started, ones that only sports can provide.

This past year, the heroes aren’t only on the ice, but also in the stands — nurses, physicians and hospital staff, as well as firefighters, police officers, and transit and sanitation workers, among others on the front line.

While the COVID-19 vaccine has helped Long Islanders return to some level of normalcy, the Islanders and their fans have only made it feel even more real.

They are eager to build on their rich history as they battle the Lightning and try to advance to the Cup finals. They hold one of those seemingly unbreakable records, winning 15 straight playoff series from 1979 through 1984. Now, they’re playing for a fifth Cup, which would put them one ahead of that other New York hockey team.

They hope to close their final Coliseum season in the ultimate style before opening the new UBS Arena at Belmont Park in the fall.

Then, perhaps, next season, fans will be able to look up to the rafters and sing together, "O say, does that NHL championship banner yet wave . . ."

Reader Sean R. Strockyj lives in New Hyde Park.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this essay had the incorrect number of consecutive playoff series and years that the Islanders won them.