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Atmosphere on display as Islanders return to Nassau Coliseum

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders knew what to expect. As the players and staff drove home from Saturday morning’s skate at their practice facility not far from Nassau Coliseum, they saw fans already in the arena parking lot tailgating, preparing for the team’s return to the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike.

When the players hit the ice for warmups, the noise inside the building rose in a mostly-packed arena with Let’s Go Islanders chants belted out like the old days.

When Casey Cizikas broke a 2-2 tie 7:09 into the third period, completely erasing a 2-0 lead the Columbus Blue Jackets once had, the deafening roar of the Coliseum crowd evoked memories of the team’s 43-year run before moving to Barclays Center in 2015.

“It’s fun playing hockey when you go out there like that and there’s that energy, there’s that momentum,” said Islanders captain Anders Lee. “We knew it was going to be special.”

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Back for the first of 21 games this season, the Islanders returned to Long Island and to the Coliseum Saturday night. As part of a split schedule, the team is calling two arenas home this season.

Barclays Center has been since their rink since the 2015-16 season, but in an effort to find a permanent solution in “Islanders Country,” the team’s new ownership won the bid to build an arena near Belmont Park race track, which is set to open in time for the 2021-22 NHL season. While they wait, the team will play 61 of its home games over the next three seasons at the Coliseum, which has undergone a $165M renovation.

The Islanders have been back at the Coliseum since moving to Barclays, but the two preseason games couldn’t come close to the atmosphere that was inside the building during a memorable comeback win. 

There was a different energy inside, one that’s impossible to replicate at Barclays Center. The Islanders were back and supplied an another memory for the 13,917 in attendance to take away following a trip back to what was once dubbed “Fort Neverlose.”

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It had been 1,316 days between meaningful Islanders games at the Coliseum. Cal Clutterbuck’s empty-net goal to seal Game 6 against the Washington Capitals in the first-round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the final one in the building before the move. 

The head coach on the other bench that game was Barry Trotz. He saw first-hand how the atmosphere provided by the fans in the Coliseum affected the players, which is why he started the line of Cizikas, Clutterbuck and Matt Martin, three of nine players who were on the ice that night against the Capitals. The trio brought their physical edge to the game’s opening shift, with both the fans and players feeding off each other’s energy.

Cizikas’ involvement was evident all night, and it was fitting that it was his goal that stood as the game winner and completed the comeback.

“I had a lot of emotions running through my body,” he said afterward. “I was more tired from screaming on the celebration than I was from the actual shift.”

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Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella has coached a lot of games at the Coliseum, but none were more memorable than the ones he was involved with while coaching the New York Rangers. The division rivals are known for their spirited meetings that see the on-ice emotions spill over into the crowd.

“The things that were going on in the stands, it was better than the game sometimes,” Tortorella said. “When other teams come in here, they don’t experience that. That Ranger-Islander game, no matter what building — MSG or here — they’re a blast to play in. It’s when hockey was hockey. The stuff going on in the stands was just incredible.”

Tortorella and the Blue Jackets played in the original final regular season game at the Coliseum in April 2015, but there were no tears shed or final goodbyes given at the end of that game as the Islanders still had a playoff matchup against the Capitals awaiting them. The head coach was glad to be back three years later.

“This building has seen some tremendous games and some tremendous players have played in here,” he said. “I’m glad we’re the first team doing it with them because I do think when they’re charged up, the crowd’s charged up, I think it helps the visiting team, too.”

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From the pre-game tailgating to the Let’s Go Islanders car honks in the parking lot to the YES YES YES chants to the appearances of franchise legends Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom and Ed Westfall, it was a nostalgic return on an emotional night. The players couldn’t stop talking about the atmosphere afterward, praising the fans and speaking glowingly about being able to be back on that Coliseum ice.

Martin is the second-longest tenured Islander behind Josh Bailey with 452 of his 584 career games coming with New York. He made his NHL debut on the Coliseum ice in 2010 and quickly made himself a fan favorite. It was a difficult decision for the franchise to watch him leave for Toronto, but when it was clear the Maple Leafs were looking to move him over the summer, it was pretty easy to see where he’d find a perfect fit and be welcomed back with open arms.

Being able to start Saturday’s night game and feed off the vibe in the arena was something Martin won’t forget.

“It’s a rambunctious group. It’s awesome,” said Martin. “They’re so fun to play in front of. … It’s the best building I’ve ever played in.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

How Hurricanes can surge to Round 2

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The first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has already seen two of the NHL’s powerhouse teams — the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning — bow out, while the top two teams in the Western Conference — the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks — have already been pushed to the brink of elimination and are facing 3-1 series deficits.

The Carolina Hurricanes, who drew the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in their Round 1 matchup, are the other team that is trying to play the role of giant slayers.

Despite the 2-1 series deficit they are facing heading into Thursday’s Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), they should have plenty of reason to feel good about their chances at successfully coming from behind and pulling off the upset.

Let’s start with this: The Hurricanes have been the better team during 5-on-5 play from pretty much the start of the series, and there really isn’t much room to debate that fact.

The Hurricanes’ Game 3 win was about as one-sided as a Stanley Cup playoff game can be, while they also carried the play for most of Game 1. There were a lot of encouraging signs to come out of that game if you’re the Hurricanes, despite the loss.

Overall Carolina has owned a 7-5 edge in goals during 5-on-5 play and, in true Hurricanes fashion, have completely dominated the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers for the series, and they really are not very close.

They are controlling the pace, they are dominating the scoring chances, and they have the all-important edge in goals.

The difference in the series at this point has come on special teams, particularly the performance of the Capitals’ power play unit in Game 1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It was there that the Capitals power play completely picked apart the Hurricanes and changed the game, not only scoring a pair of goals, but by also doing pretty much anything they wanted when it came to generating shots and chances. In only six minutes of power play time they had 15 shot attempts, generated nine scoring chances, and scored two goals to completely swing the game. If the Hurricanes were going to have a chance in the series that sort of dominance by the Capitals’ power play was not something that was going to be allowed to continue.

And it hasn’t.

In the two games since, the Hurricanes’ penalty kill has done a complete 180 on the Capitals’ power play and shown some pretty dramatic improvement, drastically cutting the number of shot attempts and scoring chances they have allowed. They have also not allowed a single goal, and that has to be the best sign of all for the Hurricanes.

It’s obviously only a three-game sampling, but the Hurricanes have demonstrated so far that they are perfectly capable of carrying the play at even-strength and getting the better of the Capitals when all things are even. It’s when the game turns to a special teams battle that the Capitals seem to be at their most dangerous, and if the Hurricanes can eliminate that advantage their chances of coming back in this series will significantly increase.

Not enough is made about just how good the Hurricanes’ blue line is and just how much they can frustrate opposing forwards in any situation. There is a perception about the Hurricanes that their dominant shot attempt and Corsi numbers are the result of them having a “shoot from anywhere” mentality. But it’s not necessarily about what they do with the puck that drives those numbers, it’s also about what they do when they don’t have the puck. And for several years now the Hurricanes have been one of the NHL’s best teams at limiting shots and shot attempts.

They are doing it to the Capitals at 5-on-5 in this series.

And now their penalty kill is starting to do it.

If all of that continues, this series could get really interesting, really fast on Thursday night.

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Wraparound: Sharks sticking with Jones as they face elimination

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Eleven goals on 54 shots. An .847 even strength save percentage. Two consecutive games allowing a goal on the first shot. Martin Jones couldn’t be found to speak to reporters after Game 3, which matches his on-ice performance during this series.

On Wednesday, he did speak, and he wasn’t there to talk about the past.

“What’s done is done,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter at this point. We’re down 3-1. We’ve just got to win a game [Thursday].”

Peter DeBoer said he’s sticking with Jones as the San Jose Sharks face elimination tonight (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) against the Vegas Golden Knights down 3-1 in the series. Related to their goaltending problem, the Sharks have been playing catch up far too often, something you don’t want to happen with this Golden Knights team.

Since their Game 1 victory, the Sharks have not led at all and have allowed the opening goal after 58, 16, and 71 seconds, respectively, in the last three games. In their three losses they also allowed the second goal of the game to fall behind 2-0. That can quickly change your gameplan, and as they’ve tried to play more aggressively — sometimes succeeding when it’s far too late — Marc-Andre Fleury has been in their way.

“You’ve got to give him some credit, he’s made some good saves,” said Sharks captain Joe Pavelski. “[There has been] some posts, some pucks popping out the other side. But next game that can’t happen. Bottom line.”

The Sharks are 0-6 in franchise history when staring down a 3-1 deficit. Overcoming history is a big enough mountain to climb.

And when it comes to goaltending, DeBoer’s hands are tied. Aaron Dell wasn’t any better during the regular season, so it’s Jones, who has five years left on a deal carrying an annual cap hit of $5.75M, who will have to be the one to help bail them out of this situation that he played a role in creating.

“We’ve just got to make sure we take care of our home games here,” Jones said. “If we can push it to a Game 6, we know we can win a game in that building. And you never know what can happen.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 4: Capitals at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET (Capitals lead 2-1): A forgettable Game 3 performance is in the rear-view mirror for the Capitals, who won’t let a tough game derail them. “As this group maybe proved last year, we kept calm,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “If anything happens — you score a goal or you let in a goal — you’ve got to keep calm, I think, and make sure you stick to the game plan.” PNC Arena will be lively again in hopes that the Hurricanes can even the series. (NBCSN; Live stream)

Game 5: Blues at Jets, 8:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 2-2): Mission accomplished for the Jets. They went to St. Louis down 2-0 in the series and head back home with things even following their 2-1 overtime win Tuesday night. “It’s going to look like this quite possibly for the next three games,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “It’s going to be very, very tight. The whole team is going to have to play well, but you’re going to need one guy to put you over the top.” (USA Network; Live stream)

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jets hoping home ice is finally an advantage in Game 5 vs. Blues

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Home ice, much like games in-hand, is only good unless you take advantage of it.

For the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, neither team has benefited from the “advantage” part of “home-ice advantage.” Through four games, with the series knotted a two, the road team has been the victor as we shift back to Winnipeg for Game 5 Thursday night (8:30 p.m. ET; USA Network; Live stream). According to the NHL, only three best-of-seven series in Stanley Cup Playoffs history have the featured the road team winning each of the first five games.

Home ice hasn’t helped either team, but one team’s top line as completely dominated offensively.

The Blues need to get more from their No. 1 line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn. The trio have combined for only three goals in the series, compared to Winnipeg’s threesome of Kyle Connor, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, who have six goals and 15 points combined.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“We’re a good line of good players and we’ll figure it out. It gets back to one shift at a time and making an impact,” said Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly. “If it’s something defensively or offensively… we know how to play the game, we know what our success looks like. It’s working for it.”

The Jets stars all hooked up for Connor’s overtime goal in Game 4.

“They drive for our team — all three of those guys and Mark in particular took his game to another level,” said Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey after Game 4 via the Winnipeg Sun. “Looking at last year’s playoffs, that’s what we see. We definitely like to see that out of him.”

The Blues and Jets each had similar road records during the regular season, with St. Louis picking up 21 away victories ands Winnipeg earning 22. But the Jets’ issues away from MTS Place date back to March when they dropped their final three home games before the Stanley Cup Playoffs began.

“I think it just goes to show that each game is a new challenge for both teams,” said Morrissey. “Coming here down 2-0 we had to be playing desperate hockey. We did a lot of good things in those first two games, but I thought we elevated our game in the last couple and that’s playoff hockey. I think for us, we love playing at home. Our fans really give us a lot of energy.”

The winner of Game 5 in a best-of-seven playoff series tied 2-2 is 205-55 all-time. The Jets will need the desperation they had in Games 3 and 4 to continue into Thursday night.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: Kings introduce McLellan; another level for Zuccarello

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

•  Here’s today’s NBC Sports Stanley Cup Playoff update for April 18

• The Todd McLellan hire is an important one for Rob Blake, as the Los Angeles Kings GM knows he needs to get this right. [LA Times]

• Here are all 31 nominees for the 2019 King Clancy Trophy, awarded to “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.” [NHL]

Justin Williams is putting a lot of friendships on hold as his Carolina Hurricanes look to top his old pals with the Washington Capitals. [NHL.com]

• The Winnipeg Jets are looking like the 2017-18 version just in time. [Sportsnet]

• Another level for Mats Zuccarello to reach? Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery thinks so. [Dallas Morning News]

• A better Calgary Flames performance in Game 4 still wasn’t enough. [Calgary Sun]

• Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on how he felt the morning after sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning: “A little relief. “Tired. Happy. All those things.” [Toronto Sun]

David Savard has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Jackets. [1st Ohio Battery]

• “Lightning becomes the disappointment all others will be measured against” [Tampa Bay Times]

• On Brad Marchand and turning a new leaf on the ice. [ESPN]

• Depth and resilience helped the New York Islanders eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins. [SNY]

Phil Kessel on his future in Pittsburgh: “That’s a tough question to start. I don’t know at this point. We’ll see how it goes this summer.” [Post-Gazette]

• What’s next for the Penguins in regards to roster turnover this off-season? [Pensburgh]

• Ralph Krueger on his future now that he’s no longer chairman of Premier League club Southampton: “At the moment, it’s rather difficult to imagine getting back into day-to-day business immediately and taking over a team.” [Swiss Hockey News]

• Former NHLer Brent Sopel talks about his battle with dyslexia and his travels with the Stanley Cup. [Grandstand Central]

• Some names to ponder as the Buffalo Sabres seek a replacement for Phil Housley. [Buffalo Hockey Beat]

• Fun look at some very weird hockey cards from the 1990s. [Puck Junk]

• Finally, in the latest episode of “Off the Ice with Kathryn Tappen,” Blue Jackets star Cam Atkinson reflects on his upbringing, and later reminisces with one of his brothers over a game of pool:

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.