The success story is the team, not the arena. Yet the Islanders and Nassau Coliseum are forever intertwined, even in the venerable barn’s waning days as an NHL facility.
But the Coliseum is not done hosting playoff games yet after the Islanders clinched a playoff series in the building for the first time in 28 years. They rallied three times from one-goal deficits and scored three second-period goals in a span of two minutes, 59 seconds to outlast the Penguins and shaky goalie Tristan Jarry, 5-3, in Game 6 of their first-round series on Wednesday night before a sell-out crowd of 9,000 in a party-like atmosphere.
"Whenever we got that goal, they were there to keep us going," said Brock Nelson, who scored twice and added an assist but later shot wide on a breakaway and hit the post on an empty-net try to miss out on a hat trick. "Once we got the lead, they were loud to the end. It’s awesome having them back. We just wanted to win that one in front of them."
"You just feed off the fans," said Kyle Palmieri, who tied the game at 2 at 12:25 of the first period.
Ilya Sorokin made 34 saves for his fourth win in the series — including overtime victories in Games 1 and 5 in Pittsburgh — and the Islanders’ second line of Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier (one goal, two assists) and Josh Bailey (two assists) powered the attack.
The Islanders next face the Bruins, who ousted the Capitals in five games. The crowd chanted, "We want Boston," as the clock ticked down.
"We’re enjoying this win right now," said Travis Zajac, who had a strong playoff debut with the Islanders subbing for injured rookie right wing Oliver Wahlstrom after being acquired along with Palmieri from the Devils on April 7. "In the next day or two we’ll get ready to go up against Boston. They’re playing some good hockey. They beat a really good team. We beat a really good team so it’s going to be another fun series."
The Islanders won a first-round series for the third straight season under coach Barry Trotz.
"It’s been quite the journey," said Nelson, an Islander since 2013. "A lot of guys in here that have been around. But I think it just goes back to this is a special place, a special group. Everyone wants to go out there and win and compete for a Stanley Cup and raise it. To be seeing some progress and getting close and having runs, it’s awesome. We’re trying to get it to go all the way."
The Islanders advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season for the first time since 1993 in the playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
The Islanders’ last playoff clincher at the Coliseum came on April 28, 1993 as they defeated the Capitals, 5-3, in Game 6 of their Patrick Division semifinals. But that game is more infamously known for Dale Hunter’s vicious hit on an unsuspecting Pierre Turgeon after the Islanders’ star celebrated a goal.
The Coliseum hosted 6,800 fans for Games 3 and 4. That increased for Game 6 at the 13,913-capacity barn with seating in the vaccinated sections expanded.
"It feels as close to before everything kind of went crazy with the shutdown," Nelson said.
Nelson, racing to the left post, redirected a fabulous feed from Bailey to tie the game at 3 at 8:35 of the second period. Zajac then won an offensive-zone faceoff after the Penguins iced it and set the screen for defenseman Ryan Pulock’s blast from the right point to make it 4-3 just 13 seconds later, tying the franchise record for the two fastest playoff goals.
Nelson’s second goal, a dribbler through Jarry (19 saves), made it 5-3 at 11:34 of the second period.
Both teams scored on their first shots — the Penguins’ Jeff Carter at 1:27 of the first period and Beauvillier at 5:16 — and Jake Guentzel’s power-play shot off Pulock’s skate made it 2-1 at 11:12 of the first period.
"We just found a way to get it done," Beauvillier said. "We stuck with it and we’re looking forward to the next round."