44° Good Morning
44° Good Morning

Old Barn might not be done yet

New York Islanders fans show their team pride

New York Islanders fans show their team pride as they tailgate prior to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the the Islanders and the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum on April 25, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

No matter how this turned out Saturday, it was not going to be a wake. The people who came for Game 6 were not there to mourn but to celebrate. It felt like the gathering at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life," when everyone in town got together to tell the central figure how much he meant to them.

So here's to you, Nassau Coliseum. You have had a wonderful life -- so far.

The place is not done yet. The Islanders might have more games here, they might not. But they saw to it that Saturday was not the official end. They beat the Capitals, 3-1, on a thrilling afternoon to force Game 7 on Monday night.

They played as if they felt they owed it to the Coliseum to keep it open, at least for practice, for another day.

"They don't really make them like this anymore," said Matt Martin, whose fierce checking from the opening seconds brought an instant roar that bounced off the low ceiling, around the seats and everywhere else. "The crowd is on top of you, it's loud. It is, I think, the best place to play."

If the Islanders win in Washington, they will be back for a series against the Rangers -- the visiting team in the first game at the Coliseum, an exhibition on Sept. 27, 1972. If not, the Old Barn (which has more or less become the official nickname) had one heck of a send-off.

"In the third period," defenseman Brian Strait said, "I felt the place shake. It really gives you goose bumps."

For anyone who might be wondering what the big deal is, there are deep answers. The Coliseum is more than nostalgia or acoustics or sightlines -- which Earl Duryea, the building's first general manager, said before Day One were "the best I've ever seen."

What makes the Coliseum matter is that it represents the identity of the Islanders and of Long Island itself. For 43 years, the building has been a statement saying, "We are important and successful on our own; we're not a satellite that depends on the city for our existence."

On top of that, the Coliseum was designed to be a crossroads. On the eve of the unofficial opening in February 1972, Nassau County Executive Ralph Caso said the exciting new building would be "a cohesive force that will give the community a sense of place, a sense of identity that it has heretofore lacked."

It still is true. There are precious few things that tie together the disparate hamlets and villages on Long Island. Nassau Coliseum is one, maybe the biggest one.

The echo of the raucous full house Saturday said the Coliseum has done its job.

Saturday had an almost surreal double-level of drama. There was the fact that the Islanders were trying to keep their season alive along with the palpable reality that they wanted to keep the lights on in the Coliseum.

The occasion echoed the early years of "Fort Neverlose," when the building had a postseason magic touch, rather than recent seasons, in which the Islanders had gone 5-11 (not counting Saturday) in home playoff games since their most recent playoff series win in 1993. It showed that when teams are relatively even, the Old Barn still is spry enough to make a difference.

Islanders coach Jack Capuano held his postgame news conference in a voice made hoarse by having to shout all his instructions and line changes to players sitting a foot or two in front of him. Capitals coach Barry Trotz again praised the atmosphere.

Said Strait, "It brings us a lot of energy. You can't ask for anything else." Frans Nielsen, who has played his entire NHL career for the Islanders, was proud that the team didn't give up the Coliseum without a hard fight (and in his case, that was literal; he was in the middle of a scrum after the final horn).

"You can't find this anywhere [else]," Nielsen said. "This can't be the last one."

The whole day brought a big smile to Roberto Borzomi of Farmingdale, who was the ice painter at the Coliseum from its opening until he retired six years ago. He wasn't about to miss this. "I love it because I was there," he said, pointing to the Stanley Cup banners. "This was very, very, very good."

When he was asked if all the old feelings came rushing back to him, he said, "Yes, yes, yes." He was just being emphatic, not trying to cite the fans' modern celebratory chant in his old digs.

Saying goodbye would have been really tough, and nobody had to do it. Instead, they raised a toast to a wonderful life.

New York Sports