The Islanders’ New Home Is Now Playoff Tested

It will never be the Nassau Coliseum, but the Barclays Center stepped up big time on Sunday night. The New York Islanders opened their new home for the playoffs with a thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 win in overtime.

The Brooklyn arena was not built for hockey. This is not breaking news. There are about 1,500 obstructed view seats. The fans feuded with the Barclays CEO Brett Yomark throughout the season over the change of goal horn to the ban of fans watching pregame warmups by the glass.  There was also an ugly incident back in December with some fans and arena security. You have to give Yomark credit, he listened to the fans and the arena went to the horn from the Nassau Coliseum and lifted the ban allowing fans to watch warmups.

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All of that now is water under the Brooklyn bridge. The sellout crowd brought the energy and excitement that was deafening in the old barn in Uniondale for so many playoff series to their new home in Brooklyn. Thomas Hickey, who scored the Game 3 OT winner, was impressed.

“Incredible,” Hickey said, describing the atmosphere. “I thought our fans were great. We fed off that. I had goosebumps after that anthem. We fed off that and they stuck with us.”

Panthers forward Reilly Smith quickly silenced the crowd with his fourth goal of the series just under three minutes into the game. The crowd was nervously biting their rally towels like the late hall of fame basketball coach Jerry Tarakanian did back at UNLV, awaiting Islanders head coach Jack Capuano’s challenge on whether the Panthers were offsides on Aaron Eklbad’s goal that would have made the score 3-0. After a review, the goal was overturned and the crowd erupted. It gave the team life and rookie Ryan Pulock’s blast on the power play made it 2-1.

The energy in the building was quickly gone as Nick Bjugstad put home a rebound off of Thomas Greiss, who had trouble with rebounds in Game 3, to make it 3-1.

The onus was now on the players to awaken Barclays. Pulock’s coming-out party continued as the 2013 first-round pick fed Shane Prince to trim Florida’s lead to one once again. During a stoppage in play, the jumbotron showed one of the many playoff highlights from Nassau Coliseum —  Shawn Bates’ penalty shot in Game 4 of the 2002 playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The roof was ready to fly off when Bates scored late in the third period. Following the clip, the video board showed Bates in the arena.

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Momentum was clearly in the Isles’ favor and the crowed erupted, including the ones in obstructed view seats, when Frans Nielsen backhanded a John Tavares pass into the net to tied the game at 3.

Defenseman Travis Hamonic certainly felt the fans’ presence.

“Our fans were very energetic, to say the least, and we wanted to make sure that we use that to our advantage, and I think tonight we did.”

The same Barclays Center security team who was combative at the beginning of the season were high-fiving fans as they exited the arena. As fans fondly remember the times at the old barn, like myself, who has been to some pretty memorable playoff games at the Coliseum. From Dale Hunter’s cheap shot on Pierre Turgeon, Tom Fitzgerald’s two shorthanded goals on the same penalty kill, their first playoff home game in eight years back in 2002 to Tavares’ OT winner just 15 seconds into the extra session a year ago, there have been some outstanding memories.

The Islanders management team hopes Sunday night’s OT winner was just the beginning of new memories at the new home. The Barclays Center is certainly ready is house them.