35° Good Evening
35° Good Evening

Nassau Coliseum has always produced fireworks

New York Islanders fans cheer after a third-period

New York Islanders fans cheer after a third-period goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, April 11, 2015. Credit: Jim McIsaac

"Sparkling" is the word that comes to mind for the Islanders' playoff tradition at Nassau Coliseum. That is only partly because a hefty share of the franchise's glow was burnished there. It also is because fans used to light hand-held fireworks during the national anthem.

"I'm sure you remember the sparklers," Ken Morrow said recently. "You knew the playoffs were starting when you saw those."

Alas, the days of sparklers are long gone, what with fire marshals recognizing that igniting anything inside the building is unsafe and unhealthy. But there is no disputing the fact that the postseason always lit up the Coliseum, and vice versa.

One of the truest axioms in sports is that the great performers establish their reputations in the playoffs. Nassau Coliseum fits that measurement as well as anything or anyone. As much as the old barn has been a comfort on Tuesday and Saturday nights in the fall and winter, it will forever be known for springtime.

Now it is ready for one last ride, starting at noon Sunday with Game 3 against the Capitals. While the setting in no way guarantees that the Islanders will take a 2-1 lead, they sure stand a better chance there than they would anywhere else.

"It's going to be awesome," said Nick Leddy, who has experienced the roars in Chicago's United Center on the way to the Stanley Cup.

Cal Clutterbuck said, "I expect them to make the building shake and make it exciting."

He was referring, of course, to the fans who have combined with the team and the quirky acoustics to create an atmosphere that has its own place in hockey history.

Simple math would suggest that roughly half of the franchise's highlights would have come on the road because about half of the games have been played there. But the Coliseum has defied math and logic. The majority of the team's finest moments have occurred on Hempstead Turnpike.

Three of the four straight Stanley Cups were won there. During the run to the first one, in 1980, Morrow, then a rookie defenseman fresh off the U.S. Olympic Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, remarked about how high the volume was. "And I've heard some loud crowds," he said at the time.

Recently, he said that the loudest he ever heard the Coliseum was on Shawn Bates' penalty-shot goal in 2002, which he witnessed as a scout. Peter Laviolette, then the Islanders' coach, recalled during a visit this season that he could not hear assistant coach Kelly Miller shouting to him from only inches away.

Former players remember feeling their locker room vibrate long before game time from the noise in the stands.

A Long Islander's mind's eye still can envision coming to the Coliseum while the dogwoods and cherry trees were in bloom. It can see Lorne Henning getting the puck at his blue line, sending it up ice to John Tonelli, who fed Bob Nystrom.

There was the time when the defending champion Flyers scored a split-second too late in regulation to end Game 4 in the 1975 semifinals. Jude Drouin scored in overtime, enabling the Islanders to eventually force a Game 7. It was the second time in two weeks that they avoided a sweep by winning a Game 4 at the Coliseum.

The mental scrapbook sees Tonelli's two goals -- one late in regulation, one in overtime -- that kept the dynasty rolling in 1982. It was at the Coliseum that the Islanders finished off their blitz of the North Stars in 1981 and sent home the brash Oilers in 1983. A year later, Morrow's overtime goal beat the Rangers in a winner-take-all playoff game.

In the 2002 series against the Maple Leafs, chants of "Steve Webb" bounced off the old walls in honor of a fourth-line forward who earned the No. 1 star on sheer hustle.

Even the bad times were memorable: The Coliseum was such a cauldron of emotion in 1993 that Dale Hunter snapped and attacked Pierre Turgeon after a goal.

Fans were so frustrated by seeing the team get no goals in two games against the Lightning in 2004 that they chanted "We Stink," or something to that effect.

Those playoff memories will sparkle Sunday, and they won't be forgotten anytime soon.

New York Sports