Just moments after the video board showed a live shot from the stands of Shawn Bates, who had broken the sound barrier at Nassau Coliseum with a penalty-shot goal during the 2002 playoffs, Frans Nielsen tied the score after the Islanders had faced a two-goal deficit Sunday night. At that point, the past passed the baton to the present and the future.
Now the important focus is not on yesteryear, and the wonderful postseason atmosphere at their previous home, but on Wednesday night, when the Islanders have a chance to put a stranglehold on the series, which they lead 2-1 after an unforgettable night.
The first playoff game at Barclays Center is out of the way. The building came up big and the game was a thriller for Islanders fans. They filled the stairwells with sound on the way out, chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” and “Let’s go, Islanders!” — cheers that made the transition from Nassau seamlessly.
And they chanted “Thom-as Hick-ey!” in honor of the defenseman who scored at 12:31 of overtime for a 4-3 win over the Panthers that ended all the questions about what kind of postseason venue Brooklyn might be.
“Incredible,” Hickey said in describing the atmosphere. “I thought our fans were great. We fed off that. I had goose bumps after that anthem. We fed off that and they stuck with us.”
From now on, it is all about the teams and their series, not the arena.
For the record, the Islanders lost their first playoff game at Nassau Coliseum, falling to the Rangers, 8-3, on April 10, 1975. So don’t try to find omens in opening-night results. Barclays Center’s playoff legacy will be figured out years from now.
For starters, though, it was just what you’d expect: electricity before the game, quiet when the Panthers scored, roars when a Panthers goal was overturned, frenzy when the Islanders recovered to tie, pandemonium at the finish.
In other words, the venue did just fine.
“I don’t question our fans, ever. You just didn’t know if the building was going to have that sound,” Hickey said. “I knew our fans were going to be loud. They’ve been good all year, but the playoffs are a different beast for them and for us. They brought it tonight.”
Islanders fans would have felt a certain edginess Sunday night no matter where the game was. What really gave it urgency was that it is the seventh year of the Islanders’ John Tavares Era and they have yet to win a playoff series.
Fact is, that feeling itself is part of Islanders tradition. There was a time when a group of fans distributed leaflets urging their peers to get more pumped up. That was in 1980, when the supporters were anxious because the road to a Cup seemed to be taking forever.
They were seen as playoff underachievers, and the atmosphere in the Coliseum reflected the skepticism.
The team kept the faith, though. Denis Potvin, who was present Sunday night as a Panthers broadcaster, recalled: “I think the faith was the real belief that we were getting better, and the fact that we were 25, 26. It wasn’t like we were 32 and at the end of our rope.”
Of course, they were not at the end of their rope. They were at the start of a string, of four consecutive Cups.
The point is, struggle, passion and patience are part of the deal and part of the fun no matter where your home rink is. But it’s something special when the rink is so lively. The team and its fans made it so Sunday night.
Hickey, asked to describe the atmosphere after the goal, said: “I don’t know. I’m just coming out of my blackout.”
And his team has just come into a new era.