In a perfect world for the Islanders and their fans, Saturday would have been the occasion to happily say “goodbye” to Barclays Center, possibly forever. Instead, they left thinking, “We really hope to be back again in a couple of months!” So it’s complicated. Wins can be complicated sometimes, and this really was a win for them.
Not a thrashing, sweeping victory (like Saturday night’s 5-2 win over the Oilers). More like a squeaker in three overtimes. But if you have plenty of time to think about it — say, if you’re waiting for a train connection in Jamaica — you conclude that it could have been worse.
That is true even for someone like this reporter, who is on record saying that all of the Islanders’ potential playoff games ought to be at Nassau Coliseum (a conviction that grew much stronger in my mind during a 31-minute layover at Jamaica after last Sunday’s game). There simply was no way that executives at Barclays Center and the National Hockey League were going to forgo all of the extra money from the extra seats and suites in Brooklyn. Getting approval on Friday to hold the first round in Uniondale was about all that Long Island realistically could ask for.
The announcement that second-round and any subsequent playoff series will be played in Brooklyn came on the eve of the Saturday game against the Oilers, which was the last one scheduled for Barclays Center. So much for the formal farewell to the off-centered scoreboard, the low-visibility seats and the rink-side car (which spontaneously started beeping late in the first period).
“I think as we all know, a decision had to be made,” general manager Lou Lamoriello said Saturday morning at the team’s practice facility, which is — like the team’s heart, soul, fan base and identity — on Long Island. “Certainly, as the statement mentioned, there were a lot of participants in the decision. So the decision is made, it’s behind us. All we can do is focus on what we have to do, which is to get into the playoffs.”
He was asked if the announcement Friday was good news. “Absolutely,” he said.
Credit a win for Lamoriello on this. In convincing the powers-that-be to eschew some receipts and hold the first round at the Coliseum, he flexed his savvy and respect. He obviously made the case that all of us know: The Old Barn is much more convenient for just about everybody involved with the Islanders, and the atmosphere presents a tangible home-ice advantage.
Cal Clutterbuck, a veteran of the 2015 series against the Capitals, said, “It’s nice to have any time there. It has kind of a special feeling to it. In the playoffs, that place really comes alive.”
It was interesting that the only person mentioned in the news release announcing the decision was Governor Andrew Cuomo, even though neither arena is a state facility. We can infer that he was a mediator or facilitator in the agreement. Cuomo, who supports the Islanders’ Belmont Park project, evidently saw the compromise as a win, a welcome one for him after the Amazon deal fell to pieces.
Lamoriello said, “People who know me well enough know that I’m not a politician . . . The only thing I do know for certain is that a new building is needed. It is paramount for this team to stay in New York, and I think that message was sent directly and indirectly.”
Another message that came loud and clear Friday is that the Coliseum is not seen as a permanent solution. In their own news release, the Islanders said the decision to hold later rounds in Brooklyn reflects “that Nassau Coliseum does not qualify as an NHL major league facility.”
Reading between the lines, that might just say, “Don’t get overly comfortable there, folks.” Reading tea leaves, it would not be a shock if some games were played at Barclays Center next season, meaning we could go through this postseason dance all over again.
But a team that is succeeding by, in its coach’s words, earning one inch at a time, a team that has reached the second playoff round only once in the past 26 years, knows better than to think too far ahead. The Islanders know they can earnestly shoot for one playoff round at their true home. They’ll take it. Any playoff game there is as close to perfect as you can get.