WASHINGTON - Now the Islanders are in a uniquely desperate situation, or desperately unique. Not only are they playing for the survival of their season, they have one game to keep Nassau Coliseum alive.
They have one last chance to give themselves more chances, one opportunity to avoid having the lights turned out forever on hockey in the only home they have ever known. If they want to seize on omens, they can look at the fact that they haven't been good at closing things out or shutting them down this postseason.
If they had been better at those skills, they would not find themselves down three games to two against the Capitals, heading into a possible elimination for themselves and their building Saturday. Looking back on it, they put themselves in this position well before the 5-1 loss in Game 5 Thursday night. They were up by two goals twice in Game 2 and let that slip away. They were up two games to one and couldn't build on it. They even jumped ahead 1-0 Thursday night.
What they have come face-to-face with now is the bleak prospect that has both enlivened and clouded their season: the final game at the Coliseum. A win would give them a shot to win Game 7 and have another series, possibly against the Rangers. A loss and it's time to turn the key and say goodbye.
"The effort is going to be there. We know that. We know what it means to our fans. That can't be the last game there. It just can't be the last game for them," defenseman Thomas Hickey said after playing 20 minutes, 1 second as part of a depleted unit on the blue line.
"We're going to come with our heads on and come ready to play, and make sure it's not the last game there. We've got to find a way."
They found no way Thursday night.
The bigger Capitals seemed to wear the Islanders down, stifling a power play that is 0-for-12 for the series and breaking it open with three goals in the third period.
Anders Lee breathed life into the Islanders at 5:22 of the first period when he fought Tom Wilson, the rough-edged forward whose hit on Lubomir Visnovsky knocked the veteran defenseman out of the lineup (and perhaps out of his Islanders career). "It's part of the game. We protect our players, they protect theirs," Lee said. "It's going to happen in a series. It happened early tonight."
Twenty-six seconds later, Josh Bailey put the Islanders ahead. That was their last highlight of the night.
"Flush this one down the toilet," Hickey said. "It doesn't matter. We've got to be better. We're going back to our fans."
Afterward, the Coliseum represented not only their cause but their best hope. "We're going back home to a rocking building, to fans who have supported us all year. We know they'll be there strong for us. We're going to need them," Lee said.
Johnny Boychuk said, "We're going to throw everything at them. With our fans behind us, cheering loudly, it will be a fun game."
Or it could be a really sad occasion. The Islanders and their fans aren't the only ones sorry to see it go. Capitals coach Barry Trotz on Thursday said Games 3 and 4 at the Coliseum were "a fantastic atmosphere." Capitals forward Troy Brouwer, who assisted on Karl Alzner's go-ahead goal, said, "It was a lot of fun to play in Nassau Coliseum because the atmosphere was great. The fans were into it. It just makes it more exciting."
Capitals fans took up the Old Barn's reputation as a challenge. Often Thursday night they chanted, "We are louder!"
Late in the third period, they sang another chant that was really meant to hit Islanders fans below the belt: "Brook-lyn!"
The team that headed home Thursday night has one more chance to make sure that wasn't the final word.