Hello, Brooklyn. As much of a challenge — OK, let’s be honest, a pain in the neck — as the move to a new building has been for the Islanders, the place is now their best hope.
That is, the building and, of course, the people who will fill it. After the Panthers drew even with a 3-1 win in Game 2 at BB&T Center on Friday night, this has the makings of a long series. But the Islanders now have home-ice advantage. The question is whether Barclays Center might really, finally feel like home.
We all know what a tough go it has been, making the transition from the ease of traversing the Meadowbrook Parkway to the ordeal of changing at Jamaica. The players have felt it, too. But they all have been saying that they feel more resolute than they did last spring, when they returned to Nassau Coliseum with a playoff series tied 1-1. They all believed they played a good game Friday night, falling to the work of goalie Roberto Luongo. They keep using the phrase they’re “ready to make some noise” this time.
Now is the time for noise to bellow down from the steep angles of an arena that will host its first Stanley Cup playoff game Sunday night.
“It was a great atmosphere here, but I don’t know if the Panthers know what Brooklyn and New York are all about when they get to that barn and it’s packed,” coach Jack Capuano said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. I know we’re looking forward to the first playoff game there in history. It’s going to be exciting.”
The commute into Brooklyn actually helped build unity among the Islanders, who played well at Barclays Center.
“It was just a different kind of year. We had to adjust to a new home, a new building and new routines. You had to eat at different times and pregame skates were different,” Kyle Okposo said the other day. “It wasn’t easy-flowing, that’s for sure. It was a little bit choppy. But I thought everybody did a really good job of coordinating. We adjusted and made it a good year.”
The Islanders consider themselves tougher for having developed emotional scar tissue in their series with the Capitals last year, when they returned to Nassau Coliseum tied at 1 after two games on the road. Having endured it and processed all of the emotions for 12 months, they believe they are stronger now. They took Friday night in stride, figuring that the way the games flowed here, a split was fitting.
“Wins are what really matter. But there were a lot better things tonight,” John Tavares said after scoring with 3:33 left to make it a 2-1 game.
Ebb and flow certainly were different from what they had been in the Islanders’ rambling 5-4 win Thursday night. This time the Panthers were more disciplined and Luongo (41 saves) was much more solid than he had been in Game 1.
“Those things happen. That’s why you play a bunch of games,” Thomas Greiss said after playing another solid game in net for the Islanders. “For sure, it’s going to be fun. Especially that first playoff game in the Barclays Center, it’s going to be exciting.”
Maybe the team and its fans will start to see the oddities as edges: the off-center scoreboard, the limited-view seats, the SUV behind the corner glass, the choppy ice. Perhaps now it all will constitute a kind of quirky charm (as Mike Piazza once described the ambience at Shea Stadium).
Nothing that happened Friday night changed the tone of their talk. Ryan Strome said earlier, “I think we can really make some noise” — echoing the word that Frans Nielsen and Travis Hamonic also used.
They expect plenty of noise from the stands in Brooklyn, where they expect to really feel at home.