Until the 16:51-mark of the third period in last night's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning (20-11-4, 44 pts) and the New York Islanders (23-10-0, 46 pts), the sellout crowd of 16,170 at the [gloriously unsponsored] Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum last night was quiet.
Up to that point in the game, the fans had been, in a phrase, kinda sorta subdued.
They were subdued right up until the time when they were given a reason not to be subdued. And when they were done being subdued, they were loud in that way that makes you wonder whether any other NHL arena could possibly come close to replicating the reverberations felt in the eardrums and chests of the fans, and in the still-shaking, low-hanging rafters of the Coliseum after an Islanders goal.
The answer, as always, is no.
John Tavares did John Tavares things—maybe we shouldn't worry about him?—finally opening the floodgates for the Isles in a game where they outshot the Lightning 48-21 and out-Corsi'd them 76-48. (The Fenwick numbers were similarly one-sided: 59-33 in favor of New York.) Anders Lee deflected in a Travis Hamonic shot for the go-ahead goal 12 seconds later, and Nikolay Kulemin rifled in an empty-netter to seal the game with just over one minute to go in regulation.
It was a typical home-ice performance from the Islanders, who now sit in second place in the Eastern Conference and third overall in the entire league. Wait, what?
"We knew what we were doing with the control of the game, playing the way we wanted," said Lee. "For one to go the other way [Tampa Bay's goal], it ticked us off a little bit and fired us up toward the end."
Lee's celebration was emblematic of the excitement and elation that dominated the final five minutes of game time. The Islanders faithful, having waited more than two and a half periods for something, anything, at which to explode were finally rewarded for their patience. Tavares took a neat little pass from Kyle Okposo at the half-wall and set into motion the Isles' late-game comeback, shaking off the weight of a thousand tweets in the process.
"It was a big goal for him [Tavares]. He's a guy who puts a lot of pressure on himself and wants to succeed more than anybody," said Okposo. "Those are the types of goals he's scored throughout his career and that's why he's an elite player."
Tavares later left the game after taking a shot to the ear, but was doing well afterwards. Brock Nelson also suffered an injury that forced him out of the game. "Johnny's fine, he just got a couple stitches there. And Brock [Nelson] left, same thing: he just had to get stitched up," Jack Capuano told the media in his press conference. "Both guys are good; a real sigh of relief."
Coliseum Crowd Comes Alive
Back to that crowd noise though.
The sight-lines and character of the nearly 43-year-old Nassau Coliseum are well documented, but it's the sound from the fans that's gotten the most press this season, much as it did during the Islanders' 2013 first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With a compacted seating bowl and a low-slung roof that forces the sound waves back down onto the ice instead of allowing them to escape into dead space, post-goal celebrations at the Coliseum are unique. The passion of the fan base in concert with the acoustics of the building is what transforms the 'Old Barn' into the 'Madhouse on the Meadowbrook.' And that fact isn't lost on the players, especially after wins like last night's.
"When we scored that tying goal it was so loud, and when Anders scored however many seconds later it got even louder," said Okposo. "It was electric in here tonight and it's always fun playing in front of fans like that."
The Islanders are now 13-3 at home this season, thanks in no small part to the energy that increased crowds have brought to the Coliseum night-in and night-out. Attendance is up 6.8 percent over last year; the Isles have averaged 14,537 fans in their wins and 13,029 in their losses (H/T @ReaganKingIsles).
"It was a good hockey game, but to me, it was about the fans again tonight," said Capuano. "The energy in the building was fantastic and really, those last 10 minutes, gave us the push that we needed."
It might be the final season in Uniondale, but the fans aren't letting their team go quietly. Because that's just not possible.