The Islanders knew what everyone was thinking, and their quick and definitive answer was “no, no, no.”
No, their 1-0 overtime loss to the Hurricanes in Game 1 of their second-round series was not a matter of “where.”
It is natural to raise the question, given that the Islanders were 2-0 at Nassau Coliseum in the first series. In those games against the Penguins, The Old Barn gave off the feel of its Fort Neverlose glory days. Because of an agreement between the team, the National Hockey League and Barclays Center, the rest of the home games will be in Brooklyn, not the most popular spot among Islanders fans.
But after the Hurricanes’ Jordan Staal scored at 4:04 of overtime, the Islanders insisted that Barclays was not to blame.
“There’s a lot of questions about that. This building, filled, is as great an atmosphere as the Coliseum,” Matt Martin said. “Obviously, it’s hard for our fans to get there during the season on certain nights and whatnot.
“They were awesome. We fed off their energy,” he said, referring to the response Friday night in the team’s first game in Brooklyn since Feb. 16. “It’s the same people, just a different venue. The arena stuff isn’t an excuse in any way. It’s a great building for us to play a series. We’ve just got to find a way to win games.”
Coach Barry Trotz agreed completely. “Our crowd was great,” he said when he was asked if the Islanders truly had home-ice advantage. “We had last change, the crowd was behind us. The building had a great atmosphere. We played half our year here, so there is home-ice advantage. It was like coming back to an old friend.”
Would just about everyone at Barclays Center on Friday night rather have been at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum? Yes.
Would the atmosphere, starting with the tailgating, have been much more frenzied on Hempstead Turnpike than Atlantic Avenue? Would the ice have been better? Yes.
Still, for the Islanders and their raucously passionate fans, is this immensely better than not being in the second round of the playoffs? Yes!
While the electricity was not Coliseum-caliber, there still was a solid playoff-game vibe. Everybody was determined to make the most of this night and will do the same for every home game the rest of the way, even if the crowd never was able to do its “Yes! Yes! Yes!” goal chant.
Being in Brooklyn was a reminder why the Islanders were the best story in the NHL this season, what with their split home schedule and their stunning rise. All concerned had reason to be pleased because what has happened — a second consecutive series beginning at home, albeit a different home — was so unexpected.
And for many in attendance, it was all OK because they had seen so much worse. Take it from Robert Ceparano of Massapequa, who made the cover of Newsday in 2000 for organizing a protest against team ownership and Coliseum management for the sorry state of the whole operation. He called himself “giddy” Friday.
“I am now a 68-year-old man with Stage 3 prostate cancer and I never thought I could be so excited over a sporting event like this, even for my Islanders who have brought me so much joy over the years,” he said in an email from a Brooklyn-bound train. “I’ll never forget this run and how much happiness it has given me, raising me from an abyss that I never thought I’d be able to climb out of. What a thrill.”
The thrill is in being this deep in the playoffs, regardless of the location. Another thrill is in looking forward to a new and permanent home at Belmont Park.
But a person couldn’t help but wonder what a thrill Game 1 would have been had it been played inside the team’s oldest friend.