WASHINGTON - Hockey has no prescribed ritual to mark the end of an era. It has only the traditional end-of-series handshake line, which didn't do justice to the Islanders' loss Monday night. This one meant the end of the Islanders as a Long Island team. And it was a distant farewell to Nassau Coliseum.
The only responses were sadness, quiet and thanks, with an emphasis on the latter. Thanks to the Coliseum for being such a worthy home for 43 years and thanks to the people who always went there.
"It's hard to believe it's over. You put so much into the season, into the series," John Tavares said after a 2-1 loss to the Capitals in Game 7. Referring to Islanders fans, he added, "We're disappointed for them. I don't think we talked about it a whole lot, but we knew what this season meant, playing at the Coliseum. How they responded to us was absolutely tremendous."
It ended away from home, in one of the most consequential games the Islanders have played in quite some time. With a win, they would have gone to Manhattan for one last Long Island-versus-the-city series with the Rangers. With the loss, they are now Brooklyn's team.
One last time, Long Island's players left the ice, took off their equipment and uniforms, and shed the identity that the franchise has worn since 1972.
On another day, perhaps Tuesday or Wednesday, the time will be right to look at the team and see where it stands. Yes, it did better this season, but it now has gone 22 years without having won a playoff series. Monday night, though, was the time to register the thought that they will not be calling the Coliseum home again. The rousing victory in Game 6 on Saturday will have to serve as the official sendoff.
"We wanted to get back home," Jack Capuano said. He revealed that to get his team pumped for the climactic game in this hard-fought series, he showed his players the video montage that fans have been watching on the Jumbotron before games: the one that showed footage of current players interspersed with clips of Denis Potvin, Garry Howatt, Mike Bossy, Pat LaFontaine, Ed Westfall and others who have been favorites of the fans who spent important money all these years (the base never was predominantly an expense-account crowd).
"So they were definitely in our thoughts," Capuano said. "We wanted to get back there. I thought our guys really, really understood how important the season that we had correlated with the fan base and the energy that we built off. I can't thank them enough, and I'm sure the players can't either."
There was something eerily fitting that it came against the Capitals, a team that has led the wave among professional sports franchises moving from the suburbs to the city.
If anyone in Brooklyn wants to poke fun at the Coliseum, they ought to think twice. The place lasted 43 years, only one shy of Ebbets Field (1913-1957). Let's see how Barclays Center will look around about 2055.
For symmetry's sake, and for that of romantics, it is too bad the Islanders won't get to play the Rangers, who helped make their stay so animated and memorable. It was the Rangers who visited on Sept. 27, 1972, opening the Coliseum for hockey in the Islanders' first exhibition game. Afterward, Rangers center Walt Tkaczuk said, "I think the Islanders are going to do OK."
They sure did. They did great. They won big, and sometimes they lost big. But all along, the team and its home rink were good neighbors to us on Long Island. They made life in Nassau and Suffolk a lot more fun and interesting.
It is sad to know that, as of Monday night, the Coliseum and the Island are not their homes anymore -- except in plenty of minds and hearts.