Nassau Coliseum “smelled like history,” Jean-Gabriel Pageau said. Then he and his fellow Islanders moved to UBS Arena last season. And? “It smelled new.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Pageau also recalled the decades-old cigarette smoke that helped give the Coliseum, um, character.
The goal entering Game 3 of first-round playoff series against the Hurricanes at UBS on Friday night was to capture the ardor of the old place minus its odor.
“It’s time to write a new history in this barn,” Pageau said before the game. “I’m sure the fans will be fired up.”
They got off to an excellent start, scoring twice in the final four minutes to win, 5-1, and draw within 2-1 in the series, all to thunderous cheers from the crowd.
The game-winner came at 16:10 when Kyle Palmieri tipped in a Sebastian Aho shot, a nice touch given that he was born in Smithtown and still has family on Long Island.
Then, at 16:54, longtime fan favorite Matt Martin scored the clincher, and the new arena shook. Later, captain Anders Lee added scored the fifth and final goal, a perfect finish to the evening.
Coming into the game, the Islanders knew that even with the raucous support fans provided down the stretch, including in a victory over Montreal on April 12 that clinched a wild-card spot, the playoffs are something altogether different.
The gates for the big night opened at 5:28 p.m., and fans poured in in a festive mood despite the team’s dire situation in the series.
Among them was Louis DiNapoli, originally from Bayville, who was celebrating both his 67th birthday and the first playoff game at UBS.
He wore an Islanders-logoed sports jacket with sparkly orange lapels, a sparkly orange bowtie and an Islanders top hat sporting an orange feather.
A friend who is a professional costumer made the outfit for him to wear to the first game at UBS on Nov. 20, 2021. He chose to break it out again for Friday’s milestone.
“The Coliseum was the Coliseum, and we were known for rocking that building and intimidating [opponents],” said DiNapoli, who said he has attended every home opener and every home playoff game in franchise history.
“So now we have to christen this one. It’s going to be just as loud, just as crazy. It’s going to be a little different, but it’s going to be loud, especially if they start winning.”
The final minutes before the game began included chants of “Let’s go Islanders!” and fans waving orange towels.
For many Islanders, including the “Identity Line” of Casey Cizikas, Martin and Cal Clutterbuck, UBS is the third arena in which they have played a home game in the postseason.
“Those long playoff runs in the Coliseum, it was a pretty special thing how loud that building got,” Martin said before the game. “Really excited to see what the atmosphere is like.
“I’m sure the fans will bring it and know that we need their energy to kind of help us through here.”
Martin noted the loud support late in the regular season, but added, “It still ramps up for the playoffs. The playoffs is a whole ‘nother level. We need them.”
The last time the Islanders had a home playoff game, it was at the Coliseum, and it ended on Anthony Beauvillier’s overtime game-winner against the Lightning in Game 6 of the 2021 Eastern Conference finals.
Recalling the noise that night, Martin said, “Obviously, [UBS] is a little bit bigger of an arena than the Coliseum. If they can match that, it would be pretty impressive.”
Said Clutterbuck, “We got a taste of it when we were coming down the stretch, but I think it’s going to get kicked up a notch. We know that our fans love playoff hockey.”
They sure did on Friday.