SPORTS

Islanders aim to close Nassau Coliseum in style with one more playoff run

04/11/2015 04:23 EDT | Updated 06/14/2015 02:59 EDT
Banners commemorating the New York Islanders' four consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1980s and many of the stars who made it happen hang above the ice at Nassau Coliseum.

But it's the thing the banners are attached to that players think about when it comes to the playoffs.

"The roof's going to blow off," Islanders captain John Tavares said. "I swear there's dust falling on the ice during the game."

Said defenceman Travis Hamonic: "The roof, honestly, might come off, and I'm not just saying that."

Structural integrity aside, the Islanders would love to make Nassau Coliseum rock several times this spring with one more long playoff run. In the fall, the team will move from their home of 42 seasons to Brooklyn's Barclays Center, beginning a new era for the franchise.

"The league's moved past places like this," Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said outside the visitors' locker-room at the arena. "The 'Joe' and this one are tied for the oldest buildings in the league I think. Sometimes they look like it."

Like Joe Louis Arena, Nassau Coliseum — which opened in 1972 — shows its age. There's the asbestos warning sign and the narrow hallways and throwback feel.

It doesn't have many of the fan amenities that are standard in modern rinks, nor does it have the facilities players are used to. But there's a cool novelty to the old barn in Uniondale, N.Y.

"Oh there's a charm to it completely," Hamonic said on a recent trip to Toronto. "There's a feel, there's history when you look up at the banners. Four straight Stanley Cups and you know they were won in that building and that was back in the early '80s. I think we're all appreciative of that."

Appreciating history, these Islanders want to add one more piece of it before closing out Nassau Coliseum. They'll open the playoffs against the Washington Capitals, perhaps again as the underdog as they were at the start of the season when coach Jack Capuano believed "no one gave us an opportunity."

"Right from training camp we just talked about believability and we talked about trust," Capuano said. "You look at the division that we're in and there are a lot of good teams and we felt that if we played a certain way, and we played the body of work and the foundation and the structure that we need to play in, that we would give ourselves a chance. And we've done that."

Now there's a chance for the Islanders to make it further than they did two years ago, when they lost in the first round to the Pittsburgh Penguins. That series, after a five-year post-season absence, provided a hint of what to expect.

"I played there for five years and you had some rough years, never made the playoffs, and then the last year we finally made it," former Islanders defenceman Mark Streit said. "You could feel like the fans were so excited. Great atmosphere, a really loud barn."

Streit is gone, but the Islanders have built back up after missing last season. With Tavares leading the charge and the additions of goaltender Jaroslav Halak and defencemen Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, New York is more complete than in 2013.

"We have a lot of pride, and we knew we were going to be better than what people expected, but at the same time we took a while to learn about ourselves, too," defenceman Thomas Hickey said. "You can't pretend you know how it's going to happen, but we came together the right way."

Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine, who was part of the 1984 champions, said at a news conference last month that he believed this team has the intangibles, goaltending and defence to make a run. He also referenced the Stanley Cup teams when looking at this group.

"What they have is kind of almost the unknown," LaFontaine said. "Reminded me of the Islander teams that went really far: Nobody was expecting anything."

Fans packing Nassau Coliseum in the playoffs are certainly hoping they can keep the place open a little while longer.

"They've been waiting for the team for a long time to really kind of come along," Tavares said. "They've appreciated the hockey so far, and for us we want to keep that going, and it would be pretty fun to make a run there at the Coli."

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