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Islanders cheer the return of home fans, no matter how many

Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) celebrates a score

Islanders center Mathew Barzal (13) celebrates a score during the second period of the game at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Any fans allowed in Nassau Coliseum will be a welcome change for the Islanders.

"It will be great," Anders Lee said before Thursday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Penguins. "Any Islanders fan that has a chance to come into the building, I think they’ll make their presence known, that’s for sure. So I’m looking forward to that."

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that, beginning on Feb. 23, arenas and stadiums in the state that seat at least 10,000 people can admit up to 10% of their capacity. Fans will be required to wear masks and be socially distant in the buildings and all attendees will have to present a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours of the event.

It means up to 1,391 fans will be allowed to attend Islanders games, starting with a home game against the Bruins on Feb. 25. The Islanders will have 22 home games in which limited fan attendance will be permitted.

"They’re a big part of everything," coach Barry Trotz said. "We miss them. It will put some energy in the building."

Added Mathew Barzal, "Whether it’s 1,000 fans or 5,000 fans, it’s just going to be exciting to have some people in the crowd and some cheering going on. We miss the fans. Me, especially, I miss the fans out there. They bring a certain type of energy when you’re out there. It’s just different having people in the building."

The Islanders have had a long time to get used to playing in buildings without fans. Last season, they played 22 postseason games in sequestered arena/hotel/practice rink bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.

Fake crowd noise is played during all NHL games. The full in-game presentation of announcements, light shows and music during stoppages has continued even without fans in the arenas.

Still, players repeatedly have commented on how quiet it is in the buildings.

Trotz recently went as far as to say it feels as if there is no difference between playing home and away games.

But on Thursday, he also noted the difficult task of getting the Coliseum ready to host fans.

"It’s not just that easy to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have fans in the building,’ " he said. "There’s a lot of stuff that has to be done with everything from protocols and safety and then measures and all that. So, you know, we just have trouble getting the vaccines to people from what I hear, so it’s not that easy. It’s more difficult."

Notes & quotes: Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the "Fight Night" game between the Islanders and Penguins at the Coliseum on Feb. 11, 2011. The Islanders won, 9-3, and collected 183 penalty minutes. The Penguins had 163 penalty minutes . . . The Islanders improved to 3-0-1 at the Coliseum . . . Cal Clutterbuck was shaken up after going hard into the boards behind the Penguins’ crease at 13:30 of the second period. He returned for the third period . . . Goalie Cory Schneider, defenseman Sebastian Aho and forward Ross Johnston were the healthy scratches.

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