Penguins coach Dan Bylsma knows he has to prepare his team for something different Sunday.
"Our players have not seen this building like the way it's going to be tomorrow," Bylsma said after the Penguins practiced at Nassau Coliseum yesterday, preparing for Game 3 Sunday at noon. "It's going to be loud and it's going to be a pretty crazy building, one we don't necessarily see all the time during the regular season. During the regular season, we have a spattering of Penguins fans as well, so it's going to be different than how we normally see it."
That will be true for just about all of the Islanders, too. Game 3 will be the first NHL playoff game at Nassau Coliseum since Game 4 of the 2007 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Sabres. Garth Snow was the general manager, but no one else involved with that playoff series six years ago will be in uniform Sunday.
It will be a new experience for the Isles, who pulled even in the series with a 4-3 comeback win over the Penguins on Friday night in Pittsburgh. As a franchise, the Isles have not won a home playoff game since Game 6 of their 2002 conference quarterfinal, a span of six games over three trips to the postseason.
But that matters about as much to this group of Islanders as their 5-11-1 start at the Coliseum this season. It's a long time ago.
"I think everyone has heard this arena loud before, but I don't think it'll even compare to what it'll be like [Sunday afternoon],'' Josh Bailey said. "But we certainly have to do our best to feed off it and take advantage."
The Isles' road prowess was on display Friday night, when they overcame a boisterous Pittsburgh crowd and a 3-1 deficit after a period. It was the sixth time in 26 road games this season that they've rallied from a two-goal deficit to win.
Now the Isles need to bring the same desperation and urgency to their own rink, preferably from the start. They were outscored 5-1 in the opening period in the first two games.
"We're not thinking about it. The game's over with, we got our game and we realize that's the way we have to play to beat them," Colin McDonald said. "We just have to focus on what we're doing."
Now they'll be doing it in front of 16,170 of their own loud fans, and a national audience on NBC. That's more to do with Sidney Crosby and the favored Penguins, but the Islanders will try to steal Crosby's thunder the way they did in Game 2, when the Penguins' captain returned from missing five weeks, scored twice in the opening 7:22 and still came away on the short end.
"It's going to be pretty special," John Tavares said. "People have been waiting for a long time and people are going to be into it. We're going to see this building like none of us has ever seen it before."