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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Playoffs at Nassau Coliseum? NHL owes it to Islanders

As complicated as the situation is for commissioner Gary Bettman, the decision should be easy. Nassau should win in a landslide.

Fans cheer an Islanders goal in the third

Fans cheer an Islanders goal in the third period against the Kings at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Saturday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

There are roughly 13,917 good reasons why the Islanders should be allowed to play their potential playoff games at Nassau Coliseum. Here is the one that stands out and should count the most: The National Hockey League owes it to them.

Commissioner Gary Bettman announced last week at the All-Star Game and Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello acknowledged in his first post-break interview with reporters Thursday that the league will have the final word on whether the postseason games will be held in Uniondale or Brooklyn.

Fine. As complicated as the situation is, the decision should be easy:

Nassau in a landslide.

The league in general and Bettman in particular were gung-ho about the team’s move to Barclays Center, even as we all knew it was going to be a poor fit and a huge pain. Pretty much all of Long Island was skeptical (and disheartened to boot) on Oct. 24, 2012, when Bettman said at a news conference that Barclays Center was “a magnificent arena.”

“To finally be in a position to say, ‘New York Islander fans, you don’t have to worry about the future of this club. The club is staying local,’ ’’ he said at the time, then added this vow: “You’ll be able to get to it easily.”

By last April, in an interview on WFAN, he had changed his tune completely, saying about the Brooklyn arena, “Getting there, especially during the week, isn’t the easiest thing to do.”

But there never has been an “oops” or a “sorry” offered to the Islanders and their change-at-Jamaica-weary fans. The chance for that is now.

If the Islanders qualify for the playoffs, the league should let them play where they are more comfortable, where they have a better chance of success, where they are 6-1-2, where they are home.

We understand this might be a costly call. The Coliseum has only 13,197 seats (all filled again on Saturday) to Barclays’ 15,795. The former has relatively few luxury suites. The argument for playing the games in Brooklyn revolves around how much more revenue might be generated for everyone involved, including the league.

My counter-argument revolves around how many sacrifices many people have had to make these past four years. Plus, if the Islanders play at the Coliseum, they will have a better shot at winning, and playing more games, thus generating more revenue.

To save face, NHL executives can simply say, “It’s going to be warmer in the spring and we’re concerned about the quality of the ice in Brooklyn.” In any case, the Islanders deserve a big say in where they play.

This is a bit of an old story around here now, but it still is true. The vibe at the Islanders’ original home is remarkably better than at their temporary digs in New York City.

Thunder comes from the stands at the Coliseum, which vibrated when Mathew Barzal tied the score late in the third period Saturday, 31 seconds after the Kings had gone ahead. It shook again when Michael Dal Colle scored the deciding goal with 2:23 left in a 4-2 win.

“It’s special, actually,” said Ryan Pulock, who had three assists. “When you start to get that momentum with that tying goal and they start bringing the noise, it just drives you to continue to push. And we can feed off that.”

To be sure, the team has a long way to go just to make this whole debate relevant. As good as they have been so far, the Islanders will have to be extra sharp to make the playoffs. They need reinforcement, such as scoring depth, at the Feb. 25 trading deadline.

The Coliseum’s electricity makes the Islanders an attractive destination now. Who knows how many players the team has missed out on — or lost — because the commute, the ice and the atmosphere at Barclays Center have been less than ideal?

The league must take its share of responsibility for that. No need for an apology, just the right answer on the playoffs.

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