Players make dramatic comebacks and revisit past glories. Coaches do it. Teams do it. Such narratives have been part of sports forever.
This was a rarer trick: A return from obscurity to center stage by a building. And on Wednesday night, NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum took a well-earned bow.
The fans who filled the old rink loudly celebrated the Islanders’ return to playoff hockey on Long Island, a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 of a first-round series against the Penguins.
Afterward, the players gave their fans an assist.
“That’s a big reason why we play hockey right there,” said Josh Bailey, who scored the game-winner at 4:39 of the extra period. “I think that was special to come out to, and we’re looking forward to more of that.”
Said Cal Clutterbuck, “It was great. You’d be hard-pressed to find a place like it in the sport. Kudos to the people for making it what it is.”
And, finally, this from Mathew Barzal, playing in his first career postseason game, including an assist on Bailey’s overtime score:
“Right from the first puck drop, the crowd was crazy. We love playing here . . . It was nuts. Young guy, first taste of the playoffs, it definitely was exciting.”
Sure, all concerned also would have been excited if Game 1 were in Pittsburgh. Or Brooklyn. But the fact it was at the Coliseum made it more so.
After the morning skate, coach Barry Trotz said, “Absolutely, I’m looking forward to the atmosphere. It’s the right feel. It’s the right place and the right time.”
The last time a playoff game was held at the Coliseum, on April 25, 2015, Trotz was behind the Capitals’ bench, where he watched his team lose, 3-1, in Game 6 of a first-round series. (The Caps won Game 7 in Washington.)
So he knew the drill, only this time the crowd figured to be even more amped, given that it appeared the 2015 game would be the last for eternity.
“It’s funny the way things work out sometimes,” said Bailey, who played in the 2015 game.
Asked whether he would like to don a hoodie and sunglasses and soak in the atmosphere among pregame tailgaters, Bailey said, “I’d enjoy that. Even just driving by it on the way in, I think I’ll feel a little goosebumps.”
There were plenty of goose-bump moments once he actually took to the ice.
Many fans wore the orange playoff T-shirts that were left on their seats, and most kept up a steady stream of chants and cheers.
When Tom Kuhnhackl seemed to score 33 seconds into the game, things got really loud. That goal was overturned on an offsides call, but Jordan Eberle scored barely a minute later, and the fans got even louder.
Statistically, home ice means less in the NHL than it does in most sports. But Trotz said even if it provides a tiny edge, that has value.
“If it gives you a one-percent advantage right through your lineup, that’s pretty good,” he said. “You’re looking for any advantage. The difference between winning and losing in the playoffs is minimal. Anything that you can have an advantage on, it counts.”
What made Wednesday even more special – and peculiar – is that the arena’s playoff run might be shorter than the team’s.
If the Islanders advance, the Coliseum will not. The Barclays Center is set to hop off the bench, over the boards and into action for the second round if needed.
So fans who prefer Uniondale to Brooklyn need not preserve their voices beyond two or three more games.
“A lot of good playoff memories in that arena,” Bailey said before the game, “and I’m looking forward to creating some new ones in here in this postseason.”
Twelve hours later, he did.