The Islanders were in Raleigh on Wednesday night, and their two home arenas were hockey-less in Uniondale and Brooklyn. But for some of their most passionate fans, there was nowhere else to be but 14th Street in Manhattan.
It was there that a packed house wedged its way into the “Offside Tavern” to live and die with the team for Game 3 of its second-round playoff series against the Hurricanes.
Surely, there were fans watching in homes and public places across the area, but in the 2½ years since Westbury native Nick Costa opened his establishment, it has become a go-to for Islanders supporters, especially those who work or live in the city.
“When they score, it sounds like the Coliseum,” said Dan Cafiero, 29, who lives in Masspequa and works in Long Island City. “It’s crazy.”
That it was.
The “Offside” had been gaining a reputation for attracting Islanders fans through Costa’s social media efforts, but when MSG Networks produced a television ad featuring it earlier this season, things took off.
“That was the absolute game-changer,” Costa, 37, said. “That probably leapfrogged us forward a decade as far as exposure goes.”
Soon players’ wives and girlfriends were showing up, including for a bachelorette party in advance of Sydney Esiason’s June wedding to Matt Martin. Grace Lee, wife of Anders, watched Game 3 from a reserved table on Wednesday night.
Then co-owner Jon Ledecky, who lives in Manhattan, joined in. Last week he hand-delivered rally towels for the series against the Canes.
“It’s so surreal,” Costa said. “If you asked me this even 10 months ago, before the commercial had ever aired, I would have said, ‘You’re nuts.’ He’s a man of the people. That’s used a lot, but he’s been great.”
Nick Giordano, 27, grew up an Islanders fan in Westchester County and makes the trip to the bar “weekly, if not daily” to watch games with likeminded fans.
“It’s not just a bar,” he said. “Everyone who works here is like family to me.”
That sort of feeling has extra meaning for fans of A team with a smaller base than, say, the Yankees or Giants, who have no trouble finding fellow travelers in sports bars.
Costa got the idea for an Islanders theme during a playoff series several years ago, when his then-girlfriend got tired of him pacing nervously in their Manhattan apartment and ordered him to find a sports bar.
“I looked, and it wasn’t there,” Costa said. “That was kind of the high sign.”
It was a natural for him. “I love the Islanders more than anything, besides my wife and kids,” he said.
Among the drink specials he offers are Boychuk Punch and the Martin-arita. There also is a Josh Ho-Tang, “which hasn’t seen any action this offsesason,” Costa joked.
Tater Trotz are on the food menu.
Costa is happy to have fans of other teams buy food and beverages, of course. There are only 82 Islanders games, plus playoffs, and a full year of drink orders to fill.
So he doesn’t mind Rangers fans coming? He hesitated, then said, “As a business owner I don’t, but personally if I have to see that little video of Messier raising the Cup one more time . . . "