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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Islanders' going-away party a successful fanfest

Fans cheer after a New York Islanders' third-period

Fans cheer after a New York Islanders' third-period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers at Nassau Coliseum on Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Game time was approaching, and Michael Galper and his brother Brendan were sitting in famously rowdy Section 329, wearing their Islanders sweaters and ready for another raucous day at the old barn.

Having fun yet this season, guys?

"Wow, I've never actually seen this before in my life,'' Michael, 28, said. "So it's pretty crazy, really crazy. I have never, ever seen this. I remember literally buying $10 tickets and going all the way to the bottom. No one was here."

This was yesterday afternoon, before the Islanders won (yet again) and sold out Nassau Coliseum (yet again) in this winter of their content.

Here's the really crazy thing about the Galper brothers:

They live in Brooklyn, attended the Islanders' preseason games there and still would prefer to keep commuting to Nassau County a couple of dozen times a season than taking an easy subway ride to Barclays Center.

"I'd rather come here," Michael said. "The stadium is so much better. It's built for hockey . . . This is it. This is home, no matter what. It's literally home."

Said Brendan: "It's louder here . . . It's like we're guests there."'

Thus do the Galper brothers nicely illustrate the ambivalence of a situation so strange that "bittersweet" does not begin to describe it -- one that could turn the oft-overlooked Islanders into a compelling national story this spring.

On one hand, their days in Uniondale are dwindling fast. On the other, they and their fans are having a rollicking good time along the way, illustrating what everyone will be missing come autumn.

It's . . . strange. But for the short term, it's also good fun.

"It's been phenomenal," said Chris King, in his 21st season on the Isles' radio broadcasts and 26th covering them overall. "It's the season we've all hoped for and never knew we would get, especially here in this building."

Monday's 7-4 victory over the Flyers before a family-oriented holiday crowd improved the Islanders to 16-4 at home. They won 13 home games all of last season.

They have five consecutive sellouts and 11 overall. That's nine more than last season at the Coliseum.

"When this building's full it's one of the best in the league," forward Matt Martin said. "When they're loud and the building is rocking, it pushes us forward to want to win hockey games.

"We've kind of come together with this 'Yes, Yes, Yes' thing and we're all having fun with it."

Martin was referring to a chant that follows goals, of which there were many Monday. The players also have been doing it after games to acknowledge the fans.

"It's just always a lot of fun," captain John Tavares said of the energy in the building. "It's always a boost."

Coach Jack Capuano made improving the home record a priority. Done. He, too, credited fans with an assist.

"When guys are down and we could have easily folded," he said, "the energy that they are giving this hockey club right now is a big factor in what we've done."

Howie Rose, the TV play-by-play man, called this season a "revelation," adding that seeing the fans so animated "really reinforces the disappointment a lot of us have that they're leaving here."

So the Islanders have arrived at the All-Star break living a dream that has resembled a Disney movie more than a funeral march for their run at the Coliseum. The sad news is the end is near. The happy news is most people appear too distracted to dwell on it.

"When you haven't won a playoff series in 22 years, the more immediate goal is to get to the playoffs and win a series," King said. "I think everyone wants to just enjoy each and every home game the rest of the way."

King noted that April 11, the day of the final regular-season home game, suddenly doesn't loom quite the way it did when the schedule came out. "The fact a playoff game will be the final game in this building," he said, "I think brings a lot of relief to Islanders fans."

Capuano said he has not addressed the westward move with players but understands fans cannot ignore it. Winning eases the pain.

"They have been so passionate here you want to send them off with a feeling of a team that they can be proud of," he said. "That's what I want to do."

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