42° Good Afternoon
42° Good Afternoon

Islanders beat Carolina in final home opener at Nassau Coliseum

John Tavares of the Islanders celebrates his first-period

John Tavares of the Islanders celebrates his first-period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes with teammate Johnny Boychuk and Kyle Okposo at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Maybe the Islanders should threaten to run away from home more often. Last night, on the occasion of their 43rd and final Nassau Coliseum season-opening game, Long Island's only big-league sports team experienced an unusual amount of love from a packed house of full-throated partisan fans.

Before the game, the parking lot was overrun with tailgating supporters in Islanders jerseys, and the old joint was jumping from the opening faceoff. Best of all for the 16,170 spectators and their team, the Islanders defeated the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-3, to keep their perfect season alive.

OK, they are only 2-0. But still.

"It was crazy," said forward Josh Bailey, whose conversion of Frans Nielsen's feed with 3.6 seconds left in the second period proved to be the game-winner. "I mean, as a player, what more can you ask for? Those are the things, growing up, you dream of, coming out to crowds like that. It was awesome, and we were happy to give them something to cheer about."

The Islanders outshot Carolina 31-24, and Chad Johnson, playing his first game in goal for the Islanders, had the giddy customers chanting his name.

"Just the energy, the chants, all that," Johnson said. "It almost reminded me of a college atmosphere. It was fun. Even when we left for the pregame skate [before noon], there were people out there in the rain, barbecuing, having some drinks and stuff."

The Islanders never trailed, though Carolina twice tied the score in the first period on a pair of power-play goals by Jiri Tlusty, and Tlusty's completion of a hat trick with just under five minutes to go made for some tense final moments.

The thoroughly involved fans, seemingly imported from the Stanley Cup glory days of the 1980s, repeatedly broke into lusty choruses of "Let's go, Islanders!" And not quite four minutes into the festivities, John Tavares whipped a shot past Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin.

"It was exciting," said Brock Nelson, whose deflection of Johnny Boychuk's blue-line shot broke a 2-2 tie early in the second period. "It gets the guys fired up, and we were able to feed off their energy."

Overall, the throwback atmosphere had far more of a feel of the team's perennial playoff days than its 1972 building debut, when the expansion Islanders hardly had expanded their talents to an NHL level.

That was so long ago that Islanders coach Jack Capuano was a 6-year-old hockey player in Cranston, Rhode Island. He said he didn't have a favorite team then, though he acknowledged "following'' the Boston Bruins.

Surely the then-Stanley Cup champion Bruins were more attractive than the fledgling World Hockey Association's team, the Whalers, who were placed in Capuano's general neighborhood -- Hartford, Connecticut -- in 1972.

The Whalers, by the way, were absorbed into the NHL in 1979 and went south in 1997 to become the Carolina Hurricanes. Small world.

Anyway, back to the present. After sharpening their knives against Carolina in Raleigh with Friday's 5-3 victory, the Islanders last night appeared poised between historic old deeds and new possibilities in a far-off borough.

In the meantime, "this place means a lot," said Tavares, who also set up Cory Conacher's first-period score. "It's been through a lot, people have been through a lot, so I think we want to go through this together."


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