UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders are moving on from Nassau Coliseum after this season, and into UBS Arena, which opens its doors in the fall.
But the dream of wrapping up five decades of Islanders hockey at the Coliseum with a championship was kept alive after they rallied for a 3-2 overtime win here against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on Wednesday.
The Islanders forced Game 7 at Tampa Bay on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS). Another victory would advance them to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1984.
“Wouldn’t that be something?” Hockey Hall of Fame member and former Islanders defenseman Denis Potvin told NHL.com. “I mean, even if we just get to the final round, and I think we can, it would be amazing. For us, the building means so much. The effects of what’s going on right now are very, very genuine. This is great.”
Potvin was selected by the Islanders with the No. 1 pick of the 1973 NHL Draft and played his entire 15-season NHL career with New York. He was captain for their four consecutive Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83, scored 1,052 points (310 goals, 742 assists) in 1,060 regular-season games, and 165 points (56 goals, 109 assists) in 185 Stanley Cup Playoff games.
“I first walked in here when I was 19 years old, and most of my teammates, same thing,” Potvin said. “We just grew up here. It’s a bittersweet situation to watch it go away. … The hockey part, ‘The Barn,’ ‘Fort Neverlose,’ all of those things, will move on and hopefully be reestablished at UBS.”
The Islanders are battling the Lightning in the third round of the playoffs for the second straight season; they were eliminated by Tampa Bay in six games in the 2020 Eastern Conference Final.
Potvin recalled when the Islanders were favorites to win the Cup in 1979 but lost to the New York Rangers in the NHL Semifinals in six games. The Islanders dynasty was born the following season.
“When you look around, you look at what Detroit had to do, you look at what Pittsburgh had to do, what we had to do, the Oilers had to do, I think that it is a rite of passage,” Potvin said. “You look at every one of those teams, the coaches were very good at bringing the players out of those tough times and then showing a brighter way.”
Former forward John Tonelli said the Islanders alumni are proud of what the current group has accomplished following the hirings of general manager Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz in 2018. Lamoriello won the Jim Gregory General Manager of the Year Award for the second straight season Tuesday.
Tonelli played eight seasons with the Islanders (1978-86), and scored 544 points (206 goals, 338 assists) in 594 regular-season games and 83 points (28 goals, 55 assists) in 113 playoff games for New York. His No. 27 was retired by the team last season, but in an agreement with Tonelli it continues to be worn by injured forward Anders Lee, who is in his third season as Islanders captain.
“I see a lot of similarities between [former coach] Al [Arbour] and Barry Trotz,” Tonelli said. “The way he commands respect throughout the team and the way he’s got that team playing as a team. It’s we; there’s no I’s on that bench. You can tell. They’re in it together, and that’s special to watch.
“This team is creating their own legacy. They’re putting their own signature on this building. It’s coming to its end. Is it sad? Yes, but what’s refreshing and what’s new is the future, and we’re going to have a state-of-the-art, unbelievable, incredible arena. I’m hoping and I’m praying that guys will want to come here and play for this organization because it really is something special.”
Winning Game 7 at Tampa Bay won’t be an easy task. The Lightning have not lost consecutive postseason games since the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round (13-0), the longest such run in NHL history. They are 2-0 in games following a loss in this series, including an 8-0 victory in Game 5.
“You can’t say that they don’t have the fight and the effort and the will,” Tonelli said. “When you have that, anything can happen.”
Potvin and Tonelli have attended several games at the Coliseum during the Islanders’ playoff run. Another win Friday would guarantee at least two more games in a building that hosted so many memories each holds close to his heart. Anthony Beauvillier provided them another one when he scored 1:08 into overtime Wednesday.
“Had I had to make a presentation on the ice, I think I would’ve kissed the ice,” Potvin said. “That’s how important this building has been to me.”