Islanders fans generated thunder, and the Lightning heard them loud and clear.
The home-crowd support was not quite enough to carry the Islanders to a victory in Game 3 of the teams’ second-round playoff series Tuesday night, but the visiting Lightning is taking that factor seriously heading into Game 4 Friday night.
“Oh, it was rowdy,” coach Jon Cooper said after practice in New Jersey on Thursday. “It’s obviously a different feel than Nassau Coliseum. Nassau was a little more, I guess, intimate, just because of the way the structure is built. But the fans haven’t changed and they’re really passionate about their team and you see the Islanders feed off them.”
Cooper, 48, brings far more credibility to this discussion than your average visiting coach. He played lacrosse for Hofstra and attended games at the Coliseum during his college days. So he knows the history.
Cooper said he was impressed by the Barclays Center atmosphere when the team made its only regular-season appearance there in early April. Then he watched from afar as the place rocked during the Panthers series.
On Tuesday night, he saw it firsthand during his team’s 5-4 overtime victory.
“It’s something we’ve talked about in the [locker] room,” he said of the fans’ potential impact. “Especially in that first period, we knew they were going to push. We knew the fans were going to be all over this game, and they were.
“That’s why you talk about responses, and [Ryan] Callahan scoring with 12 seconds left [in the first period to tie the score at 1] really popped a bubble in the energy of the arena, because it’s pretty rowdy in there.”
A couple of things that ought to be pointed out:
First, home-ice advantage has not proved to be much of an advantage at all around the NHL this playoff spring. Second, one would hope and expect fans to be enthusiastic during a pivotal playoff game, so what’s the big deal here?
It is a big deal because the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn, how it would be received by fans and how the arena itself would perform on the postseason stage have been matters of intense interest in and around the hockey community.
So far, so good.
Brian Boyle, a former Ranger who scored the game-winning goal on Tuesday night, said, “It felt like a playoff atmosphere at the Coliseum when we would play there [when I was] in New York. So this is what was expected, I think.
“It was loud. It was a raucous crowd. It’s a lot of fun to play in those. Home and away, it’s different experiences, but it’s certainly an energetic crowd.”
Boyle ended up quieting the fans in the end, bookending a stellar first period by goalie Ben Bishop in which he kept the surging Islanders to one goal as fans pined for more.
“I thought it was a really good atmosphere,” Bishop said. “Even in the regular season at the end of the year, it had a good crowd and a pretty good vibe. It’s a little bit different of a setup, but other than that, it’s a good vibe.”
The Game 3 victory made for a more enjoyable couple of days in the big city for the Lightning, which is staying in lower Manhattan but had to schlep to New Jersey to find some available ice.
On Friday, the Lightning will be back in Brooklyn, where Islanders fans hope to have something to shout about this time when the game is over.