UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The New York Islanders knew this would be a special day on Long Island when they first saw the schedule months ago.
They felt it hours before the first puck dropped for their last home opener at Nassau Coliseum.
It has been decades since the Islanders have been a hockey dynasty, and the club has reached the Stanley Cup playoffs only once since 2007. They hope to bring a little more glory to the old barn before they ship off to Brooklyn.
John Tavares and Brock Nelson each had a goal and an assist, and the Islanders stayed perfect in the young season by beating Carolina 4-3 on Oct. 11 to sweep a two-game series from the Hurricanes.
In the darkened arena before game time, the sold-out crowd illuminated the seating area with specks of white from cellphones they held up — creating a planetarium-type atmosphere.
And the noise was deafening.
“It was crazy,” said forward Josh Bailey, who scored the winning goal in the second period. “The last time we heard it like that was definitely in the playoffs. From the time we were getting ready here, we could hear it out there.”
Tavares and Nelson powered the Islanders’ offense again after they filled the score sheet in a 5-3 win at Carolina on Oct. 10. Nelson had two goals and two assists in the opener, and Tavares had three assists to jump into 16th place on New York’s career scoring list.
“It was exciting,” Nelson said. “I think everyone was looking forward to this date. We started the season yesterday, but coming back to the rink today, it felt like we were starting all over again.”
Cory Conacher added a goal for the Islanders, who have been on Long Island since joining the NHL in 1972.
Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty scored two power-play goals in the first period and completed his second NHL hat trick with 5:58 left in the third. Alexander Semin had two assists, and backup Anton Khudobin made 27 saves.
It just wasn’t enough to keep Carolina from an 0-2 start. “I think we competed hard,” Tlusty said. “We did better things, but they have a real good power play. They took over the game.”
Chad Johnson stopped 21 shots to earn his first win with the Islanders.
After scoring two goals in the first period for the second straight night, the Islanders poured it on again in the feisty middle frame to grab a 4-2 lead.
Nine penalties were called in the second — including a fight between New York’s Matt Martin and Carolina’s Jay Harrison.
Nelson gave New York a 3-2 lead during a power play when he deflected in a lunging slap shot drive from inside the middle of the blue line by new defenseman Johnny Boychuk at 6:47. The Islanders then capitalized in the closing seconds to forge their first two-goal lead of the night.
The Islanders nudged the puck into the Carolina zone, and Frans Nielsen spotted Bailey driving down the middle and hit him with a pass in the slot from the right circle. Bailey popped it past Khudobin with 3.5 seconds remaining to make it 4-2.
“You have to execute with the puck, and we didn’t do enough of that,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said.
The Islanders got on track quickly, scoring a power-play goal just 3:50 into the game when Tavares took a cross-zone feed from Nelson near the top of the left circle and slapped a drive past Khudobin for his first of the season and first since Feb. 8, just before his season-ending knee injury at the Olympics.
“Every goal feels great,” Tavares said. “There is no feeling really like it. It was just nice to kind of hit my target. I got all of it.”
The Islanders were quicker and more engaged early and threatened to jump ahead even more on their second power play of the game at 5:17.
But the Hurricanes found their legs and killed that one, and then quieted the crowd and seemingly grabbed the momentum when Tlusty scored his first 36 seconds into Travis Hamonic’s hooking penalty with 5:47 left in the opening period.
Before that goal could be announced, the Islanders grabbed the lead just 31 seconds later.
Kyle Okposo let go a hard drive as he entered the Hurricanes zone at the left point, and Khudobin gloved the puck but fumbled it and dropped it. Tavares got it at the right post, spun and flung a pass across the front of the crease to Conacher, who was alone at the left post for an easy tap-in with 5:47 remaining.
However, New York couldn’t carry the advantage into the intermission after Martin was whistled for tripping with 1:04 to go.
Eric Staal took a pass from Semin in the middle of the right circle and sent a perfect pass to Tlusty at the left post for a redirect into the net with 15.5 seconds left in the first to tie it 2-2.
(IRA PODELL, AP Hockey Writer)