The Devils played their final regular season game at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Monday, December 15, and fell to the hot New York Islanders 3-2 in a shootout. The Isles will move to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next season. Although the Islanders will be losing the most when the Coliseum closes its doors later this year, some Devils history will also be lost with the old barn, site of the Devils’ first ever playoff win.
The arena, which is situated 19 miles east of New York City in Uniondale, New York, opened in 1972 and is now the second oldest arena in the league, behind only the current Madison Square Garden, which opened in 1968. Prior to the Devils arriving in East Rutherford, the Rangers and Islanders were the closest teams, geographically, in the NHL. The arena also hosted the 35th NHL All-Star Game in 1983 which featured Devils player Hector Marini, the team’s first ever midseason All-Star representative. Marini had an assist in the game (helping the Rangers’ Don Maloney at 14:04 of the third), as his Wales Conference team took the loss to the Campbell Conference, 9-3.
Keith Kinkaid, the Farmingville, New York native who (though I erroneously referred to him as a Devils fan in my profile on him – he was only a fan of Marty Brodeur as a kid, not the Devils) grew up a fan of the Islanders, having been raised 30 minutes away, got the start in goal for the Devils. He was once again fantastic, making 31 saves for a .939 save percentage plus three saves in the shootout. With that shootout loss, however, the Devils left the Coliseum the same way they entered it. That a Long Island native with ties to both teams got the start in net for the Devils, with his nervous family in attendance, says a lot about the Islanders impact on their community. Like the Devils and New Jersey, kids now grow up wanting to play hockey because they go to see an NHL team play. And it now pays dividends, as the areas are producing NHL-caliber players like Kinkaid.
The Devils moved to New Jersey and the Patrick Division right smack in the middle of the Islanders early-1980s Stanley Cup dynasty in 1982-83. The Isles would win their fourth and final Cup that year and the Devils were, simply put, doormats. The team’s first trip to their new division mates’ home arena (nicknamed in those days “Fort Neverlose”) was on October 30, 1982 in the second half of a home-and-home series (of which the Devils dropped the first game 4-2 on October 28). The outcome of the game at the old barn in Uniondale, New York was 8-5 Islanders, as they swept the two game series. It didn’t get much better from there. In their second trip to the Coliseum, the Devils got blown out 7-1 on December 11, 1982. And so it continued. Although the Devils found fair success against the Rangers and Flyers early on, they found the Islanders much harder to master. The Devils did not get their first victory over the Islanders until October 12, 1984 (the season opener of the 1984-85 season, the team’s third in New Jersey), a 7-2 win at the Brendan Byrne Arena. Their first win at Nassau Coliseum came on December 11, 1984, 7-5.
Times did change, though, as Martin Brodeur would attest to. The Islanders have been Marty’s biggest victims over the years – he owns a better record against Long Island’s team than any team in the league, which makes sense since the Islanders were bad for most of Brodeur’s time in the East and they have always shared a division, making them frequent adversaries. Marty even got a recent win in relief against the Isles as a member of the St. Louis Blues.
Although the Devils share a geographic rivalry with the Islanders, it has not been as heated over the years as their rivalries with the Rangers or Philadelphia largely due to the two teams only meeting once to date in the playoffs (which also makes sense as the Isles were in decline as the Devils were on the rise). That meeting came during the 1988 Patrick Division Semifinals. The Devils had just squeaked into the postseason by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks at Chicago Stadium on the final day of the regular season and were now going to faceoff with the New York Islanders in the first round. The Islanders still had much of their Stanley Cup mystique in 1988, but the Devils, the young upstarts that they were, came into the series paying little respect to this great and proud franchise, as related by John MacLean and Ken Daneyko in the MSG broadcast of the game against the Isles on Monday. The Devils earned the first playoff win in franchise history at the Nassau Coliseum on April 7, 1988 in game two of the series, 3-2, which also evened the series at a game apiece (the Devils having dropped the first game 4-3 in overtime). The Devils would go on to take the series in six games; finishing things up on April 14 with a 6-5 win at home in the Meadowlands. And so the Devils and Islanders playoff history began, and they have never faced each other again in the Stanley Cup tournament.
And it is likely to stay that way for now. The Islanders are once again on the rise, having a dream season as they currently stand second in the Metropolitan Division, behind only the mighty Penguins with a 21-10-0 record and 42 points, which ties them with Detroit and Montreal for third overall in the Eastern Conference. They will make the playoffs this year, barring a collapse. The Devils meanwhile stand at 11-15-6 and 28 points, good for sixth in the Metro Division and fourteenth in the sixteen team Eastern Conference. Barring a surge, they will not make the playoffs. Although the season is quickly deteriorating for the Devils, it is good to see the Isles healthy again. They are a model of a team rebuilding to get competitive again through the draft; something the Devils will likely model themselves after in the coming years. Hopefully the Devils rebuild does not take quite as long as the Islanders did, but if the team can improve through the draft, they can ultimately be competitive again. It will take some time, but Devils fans need to be patient and look to the Islanders for inspiration.
So, as we say goodbye to the Nassau Coliseum and celebrate the Islanders history there (rightly so as it is their home rink), we, as Devils fans, should remember that the Devils do have a little bit of history in the building. From that 1988 Patrick Division Semifinal, the Devils first playoff series and playoff series win to Martin Brodeur and his record number of victories, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum has enough sentimentality to Devils fans to make us shed a tear at its passing from the NHL ranks.