Barn rockin' as playoffs return to L.I.

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Nassau Coliseum has earned many pejoratives in its slow, stagnant march into antiquity, but Sunday's matinee was a glimpse into just how electric an atmosphere the New York Islanders' home can still provide.

Yes, it's decrepit, outdated and in shambles, but the old barn was rocking Sunday in hosting the Islanders in Pittsburgh Penguins in a riveting Game 3 of their first-round series.

Legions of Islanders loyalists packed the concrete corners of the parking lot, tailgating from the early morning until puck drop. A hearty showing of fans was on hand more than an hour before the game began, starting enthusiastic if not erratic chants, and booing even the Penguins' staff members who dared to venture out to the visiting bench before warmups.

When the Islanders finally took the ice, shortly before noon, the noise was overpowering in welcoming the team back after a trip to Pittsburgh that left the series split 1-1.

It was an experience unlike any other for many of the Islanders, despite the disappointing 5-4 overtime loss.

Islanders forward Colin McDonald said he could sense the intensity in the bulding even before the team emerged from the locker room.

"We're sitting here in the locker room before the game, before warmups, and we could hear 'em through the walls. I felt like I was 10 years old, just getting the goosebumps, just so excited to get out there," McDonald said. "I really did feel like I was a kid."

"It [was] a pretty special moment," McDonald continued. "To be honest, I'm trying to enjoy this as much as possible, but at the same time we have a job to do and I have a job to do. But you never know when you'll get an opportunity like this again. It really was a fun night, despite the game."

Even Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, familiar with the place from his days as an Islanders assistant coach, tipped his hat to the crowd as factor the Penguins were forced to neutralize.

"The building was crazy. They got a lot of momentum," Bylsma said. "We wanted to settle the game down."

He was, of course, talking about the way the Islanders harnessed that energy from the 16,170 in attendance to jump out to a 2-0 lead 5:41 into play. It was a captivating stretch for the crowd, which took turns lauding the efforts of the Islanders and jeering Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

"Look at the way we started. I think it was pretty obvious there." said McDonald, who spent five-plus seasons in the AHL before earning a two-year contract extension from the Islanders with his impressive 2013 season. "It's hard to maintain that pace for a full 60 minutes. I think we've been looking forward to this for a while, even going back to the regular season. Obviously, the fans deserve this. They've waited a long time for this.

"We knew it was gonna be a great atmosphere. As a player, you really do appreciate this. It's such a humbling experience. You're thankful to be part of it."

And with the Islanders aiming to tie the series again, they know they'll be able to count on that crowd again on Tuesday.

"It was great. You feed off that type of energy. It was an unbelievable experience to get our first playoff game in here," said Matt Moulson. "And I'm sure the crowd will be just as good next game."