This wasn't supposed to happen again at the old barn. April 25, 2015 was it for the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum -- although fans hoped it wouldn't be after the Isles defeated Washington to force a Game 7 in the first round of the playoffs before bowing out of the tournament, out of the barn, out of Long Island.
But against all odds, the biggest, loudest party on the Island is back Wednesday night, and everyone paying money to take part should drink it all in because it is a deserved reward for the Islanders after the season they've had, the one that nobody saw coming.
Playoff games anywhere, let alone at the Coliseum, seemed like the wildest of dreams once captain John Tavares departed. Nobody would've believed any bit of the path to this moment, Game 1 on Hempstead Turnpike, if it was told back in 2015.
It was Next Stop: Atlantic Terminal, a move to Brooklyn everyone seemed apprehensive about from the get-go and which turned out even worse than expected. Sure, it was easier to grin and bear the first season when they won their first playoff series in 23 years. Then the losses piled up, they missed the playoffs, and suddenly those long commutes, the poor sight lines and the inadequate ice surface made everybody miserable again.
Eventually, there will be Belmont, and though that comes with its own set of issues, it will be a brand new building built just for the Islanders in Nassau County. That is years away, though, and even as this surprising Islanders season unfolded, the idea of trekking to Brooklyn for playoff games had to be nauseating for some.
But in this half-and-half chapter of splitting games between Barclays and the Coliseum before the ribbon is cut at Belmont, the Islanders and their faithful were thrown a bone with the February announcement that first-round home games would be played at the barn, with potential additional rounds at Barclays.
If Brooklyn means being a step closer to the Stanley Cup, certainly the Islanders will take it, and there's a very real possibility of a two-county playoff run because after what transpired this season, the Isles seem up to the task.
Under Barry Trotz, the Islanders have been completely transformed. He immediately took a roster lacking a transcendent player and molded it into an effective unit, quickly building an identity as a hard-working group with everyone pulling the same rope. The young defensemen improved with a sense of direction under Trotz. The forwards operate with confidence.
Superb goaltending by top offseason acquisition Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss played a huge part in this, but this stat alone says so much about the impact Trotz had and why he should win the Jack Adams award, for which there are several deserving candidates: The Islanders are only the second team in history to allow the fewest goals in the NHL the season after allowing the most.
The only other team to pull that off was the 1917-18 and 1918-19 Ottawa Senators, and there were only three teams in the fledgling league at that time; the 1917-18 season started with four teams, but the Montreal Wanderers were finished after their arena burned down.
The Coliseum is still standing, but the roof could blow off now that postseason hockey is back. Hall of Fame broadcaster Doc Emrick recalled a moment from the Isles last playoff series there four years ago.
"I remember Tavares getting the overtime goal in (in Game 3 in 2015), and the place just - it's a little roof," Emrick said Monday on an NBC Sports conference call. "It's just perfect for noise because it always struck me as a low roof, and I thought that even advantaged the 1980s Islanders too because you have a boisterous crowd that was ready to raise the roof, and they were able to do it that one overtime victory they had in the Islanders series."
There's an entire generation of Islanders fans who have no idea what it's like for their team to open a playoff series at home. It hasn't happened in 31 years, and only seven (!) players on the current Islanders roster were alive for that first-round series against the Devils in 1988.
So it'll surely be special for fans of all ages to watch that puck drop in Uniondale Wednesday evening for the start of a postseason, when every fantasy seems realistic. Playoff hockey at the Coliseum was a thing of the past, never to return. It found its way back. Party on.