Kovacevic: About this tiny place on a huge high


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Erik Gudbranson and Mark Recchi, Wednesday morning in Uniondale, N.Y. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It'll be the Penguins and Matt Murray vs. the Islanders and Robin Lehner ... and the renovated shrunken remnants of old Nassau Veterans Coliseum.

Oh, the place is prettier than ever, inside and outside ...

[caption id="attachment_804292" align="aligncenter" width="640"] DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_804266" align="aligncenter" width="640"] DEJAN KOVACEVIC / DKPS[/caption]

... but it's not anywhere near standard NHL size and, in fact, nowhere near the size it once was. After the Islanders left here for Brooklyn's Barclays Center in 2015, local government committed to an $89 million renovation that completely coated the exterior with a new design and gutted the interior, replacing pretty much everything in view. In the process, hockey seating capacity was slashed from 16,170 to the current 13,917.

That would make it the NHL's smallest arena by a broad margin -- Winnipeg's Bell MTS Place seats 15,321 -- and Gary Bettman wanted no part of a permanent return, even after the Islanders' move into Brooklyn almost immediately flopped. The latter's a basketball-first venue with bizarre sightlines, and Long Island fans couldn't be bothered with the commute, combining for average crowds there of 12,059. That's why the Islanders turned instead toward a new Long Island arena project as part of the famous Belmont Park horse racing track, one that's underway and will be done by the 2021-22 season.

In the meantime, this will again be the Islanders' home. At least for this round. Any further rounds would be in Brooklyn. But beyond these playoffs, they'll be right back here.

People here can't stop smiling about that, and count the team's members themselves, as the setting is expected to be electric.

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