It will be loud.
Now, it’s up to the Islanders to feed off of — and sustain the energy — from what surely will be a raucous crowd at Nassau Coliseum for Thursday night’s Game 3 of their first-round series against the Penguins.
The series is tied 1-1 after the Penguins won Tuesday night’s Game 2, 2-1, at PPG Paints Arena. If that game proved anything, it’s what an immeasurable difference a building filled to 50% capacity — 9,344 in Pittsburgh — can make compared with crowds that were either more limited or non-existent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 13,913-seat Coliseum, in its final postseason go-round as an NHL facility, will have approximately 6,200 people for Game 3, with 50% of the building devoted to vaccinated people socially distanced at three feet and the other half of the building devoted to non-vaccinated people six feet apart.
Capacity had been capped at 1,400 since March 18.
"It’s nice," defenseman Scott Mayfield said of the larger Pittsburgh crowd after the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime win in Sunday’s Game 1 was played in front of 25% capacity at 4,672. "For me, it just gets me excited to get to the Coli. It’ll be fun. It’ll be loud in there and hopefully we can have the start like they did tonight."
Arena experience aside, getting off to a stronger start will be a huge key for the Islanders in Game 3. The Penguins took a 2-0 lead in the first period of Game 2 and, in Game 1, they quickly tied the score after Kyle Palmieri’s first-period goal gave the Islanders an early lead.
The Islanders finished well enough in Game 1, with Palmieri notching his second goal in overtime. But in Game 2, the Penguins held a 16-10 shot advantage in the third period despite the Islanders trying to rally from a one-goal deficit.
The Islanders did not practice on Wednesday after returning early in the morning from Pittsburgh. But they have other areas to improve as the series shifts to the Coliseum.
The penalty kill was airtight in the first two games, killing off all five of the Penguins’ chances. But the Islanders’ power play is 0-for-3 to start the series and managed just one shot over the final 88 seconds of Game 2 despite skating six-on-four with goalie Semyon Varlamov pulled for an extra skater.
At even strength, the Islanders need Mathew Barzal and his top line to be more dangerous.
Plus, the Islanders need to correct some puck management issues in their defensive zone.
Coach Barry Trotz said that was a result of both the Penguins pressuring hard and the Islanders’ decision-making being "brain dead a little bit. A simple play that we’d have to make and we didn’t execute it. We threw, sometimes, ill-advised pucks to areas we didn’t need to and that was disappointing.
"At the end of the day, they had more desperation in their game," Trotz added. "I thought we were a little bit light in some areas and we didn’t make it hard enough on them. We’ve got to raise our level. We have that. I was just disappointed we didn’t get our level to the level that we needed it. They were desperate in the battle and we needed more desperation in our battles."
Still, coming back to the Coliseum with a road split is a fair result. Through Tuesday, three of the six NHL playoff series underway were tied 1-1.
"That’s the NHL," Trotz said. "It’s going to be a dogfight. I go in expecting to win every game. But, to get a split was pretty important."