- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 18, 2015

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The energy that lifted the Washington Capitals through a second-period malaise on Friday night wasn’t lost on the New York Islanders, who returned to the confines of their home ice and practiced on Saturday afternoon amidst the comfort of a warm glow.

Orange towels had been draped over the backs of the light blue seats in the lower bowl at Nassau Coliseum, and arena workers had started to leave them ready for the fans in the upper reaches of the arena as well. They carried a simple message — Let’s make history. One more time. — that balanced the prospects of the team’s current playoff push with the specter of what it had once accomplished.

Following this season, the Islanders will move roughly 30 miles west to Barclays Center and abandon the facility they’ve called home since their inception in 1972. Several proposals have been made over the years to overhaul the building, which is adjacent to Hofstra University, but all have failed.

Thus, whether it’s Wednesday, when the teams play Game 4 of their series, or some future date, an arena that hosted four consecutive Stanley Cup-winning teams, from 1980 through 1983, will bid adieu to its beloved tenant and await its next use.

“We’ve had some tremendous games here this year, the atmosphere,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said on Saturday. “There’s something to be said about the older buildings. You see it in every sport. You see it at Wrigley Field, at Fenway. You see it at all these places. … They have that good feel.”

The accommodations are cramped and the décor is dated, but the building’s cozy interior makes for an intricate fan experience. It was constructed without interior columns or supports — a rarity at the time that allowed patrons to witness the action unobstructed — and is built into the ground, meaning the arena rises only 75 feet above the surface of the surrounding parking lots.

Only Madison Square Garden, which recently underwent a $1 billion renovation, is older than Nassau Coliseum among arenas hosting an NHL team. Edmonton’s Rexall Place, originally known as Northlands Coliseum, is the third-oldest arena and opened in 1974.

Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik are the only two players on the Capitals who have played in a postseason game at the arena. They both played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated the Islanders in six games in the teams’ first-round playoff series two years ago.

“They hadn’t been to the playoffs in some time,” Niskanen said. “Exciting, new young team, you know? That was good. That was a really fun atmosphere — the best I’ve seen. The best I’ve played in. I’m sure it’s been fun other places, but it’s the best I’ve played in.

“Now, with the situation here, with it potentially the last series or, for sure, the last spring for these guys in this building, it’s going to be good.”

The Islanders won 25 of their 41 home games this season, nearly doubling their win total at Nassau Coliseum from a year ago. They have markedly improved — a year after finishing with the fifth-fewest points in the standings in the league, the Islanders cracked the 100-point mark this season — but coach Jack Capuano credited the improvement at home in part to the crowds that have showed up to say goodbye to their beloved team.

“No matter what building you’re at, when you get to play at home, obviously, it’s an exciting time — not only for the players, but for the fans,” Capuano said. “We’ve fed off this crowd all year. I think our home record’s improved. We’ve done a good job. Like I said, we could have won a few more games here, but it’s a big reason why we have the home record we have.”

Barclays Center wasn’t constructed with hockey in mind, and will need to undergo a bit of a facelift to comfortably fit a sheet of ice and other requisite features before the Islanders can use it next year. The team has signed a 25-year lease with the arena, and despite the location — though technically still on Long Island — will keep its nickname and colors.

What players and coaches will experience then is virtually certain to be completely different from what they have now. The home dressing room is cramped and outdated, and the Islanders logo at both ends of the carpet is so worn that the colors have started to bleed together.

Still, passion runs deep at Nassau Coliseum, which is why the atmosphere during Game 3 will likely be unlike anything either team has experienced in a long time.

“I think all year, we’ve had an understanding of what this season has meant to everybody, but it’s important we just try to focus on tomorrow’s game,” Islanders center John Tavares said Saturday. “We want to win this series and we want to compete for the Cup and we want to go as far as we can, and I think that goes hand-in-hand. This is just part of the process, part of the journey, and this is a fun time of the year, so we’ll be looking forward to tomorrow’s game.”

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