Oh, Bruce Cassidy, you shouldn’t have.
No. Really. You shouldn’t have.
Cassidy’s Bruins were already going to be skating into a cauldron of sound and fury Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum. Part of that is because the Old Barn on Hempstead Turnpike really is, and always has been, noisier and more cantankerous than your cranky neighbor, especially when its favored tenants, the Islanders, are playing.
That’s especially true when those Islanders have an opportunity to close out a playoff series. And if you’d like to take it a step further: if the Islanders don’t close out this second-round playoff series in Game 6 Wednesday, there is the possibility that it might be the last Islanders game ever played in The Barn.
So all of that was already in play.
Then Cassidy cleared his throat Monday night, after the Bruins somehow lost 5-4 in a Game 5, in which they outshot the Islanders 347-6 (or thereabouts) and spent 59 ½ minutes (or thereabouts) camped in the Isles’ zone:
“We’re playing a team that has a very well-respected management and coaching staff. But I think they sell a narrative over there that it’s more like the New York Saints, not the New York Islanders.”
Oh, Bruce. Now you’ve done it. The 12,000 or so zanies who were going to make the pilgrimage Wednesday were already prepared to go home with their voice boxes ruined. They were already going to fill the Coliseum with a sublime sound unmatched by even The Barn’s more esteemed contemporaries. You were already going to get an earful.
And now …
Well, put it this way: By acclimation, the three loudest nights in the history of the old incarnation of the Coliseum are generally listed thusly:
- Feb. 13, 1975, when Led Zeppelin opened with “Rock and Roll” and closed with “Stairway to Heaven” and then added four encores (capped by “Communication Breakdown,” joined on stage by the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood), a thunderous 2 ½-hour ode to ear-splitting delight.
- May 13, 1976, when 15,434 folks watched as Julius Erving scored 31 points, Super John Williamson added 28 and the Nets outscored the Denver Nuggets 34-14 in the fourth quarter to capture the last ABA Championship, 112-106, in the final game ever contested with a red, white and blue ball.
(I was at that one. I was 9. I’ve been to probably 2,500 sporting events in the 45 years since. I’ve still never heard sports louder than it was that night.)
- And May 24, 1980, when Bobby Nystrom took a pass from John Tonelli and nudged the puck past Pete Peeters 7:11 into overtime to give the Islanders a 5-4 win and their first Stanley Cup. It was so loud that day they had to replay “We Are the Champions” — then just in its infancy as a championship anthem — because nobody could hear it the first time.
That brings us to Wednesday, June 9, 2021. The Coliseum has been a raucous adventureland of ferocity for each of the five home games so far against the Penguins and the Bruins; no surprise there, of course, because playoff hockey tends to stir the inner snarl inhabiting all of us. Pittsburgh was loud, too. Boston looked like quite a party for Game 5.
But this is different. There is a clock ticking on the Turnpike. At some point in the next few weeks, it really will be last call at The Barn — and this time, they mean it. There is a sparkling new arena just 10 miles down the road, and UBS Arena is a beauty. The Barn was always as much a target of derision as affection, from the minute it opened.
But if you grew up on the Island?
It was a barn, all right. But it was our barn. We went there for Arrows games and NCAA Tournament games, for the old Newsday Classic high-school hoops showcase, for Springsteen and U2 and Squeeze and Billy Joel, for the Nets, who hung two ABA banners. And for the Islanders, who hung four Stanley Cup banners.
The building will remain. The hockey team will go, soon enough. And it was the hockey team that allowed Long Islanders to stand, proudly, whenever the roll of area champions is called. Islanders fans didn’t get any of that last year, when their team won three postseason series, every minute played far away from The Barn.
They have tried to make up for that.
And Wednesday might be most amazing chapter yet.
“It’s going to be crazy and loud,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said with a wry smile. “Even [Monday] was stressful, but it was fun. Fans make such a big difference.”
They always have, whether it’s trying to outshout Robert Plant while he reaches the high notes on “Black Dog,” or to urge Dr. J as he soars toward a basket or to join a glorious dog-pile, 12,000 strong, when a puck finds the back of a net. One more time, at the least, The Barn can give us that.
A helpful suggestion for Bruce Cassidy: two words — ear plugs.