PITTSBURGH -- As if being heavy underdogs to what they hear many people are calling the Stanley Cup favorites for a first-round playoff series wasn't motivation enough to the New York Islanders, two of their players have other reasons to conjure up some dislike for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They don't, however, plan on resorting to use it.
Two players who, to varying degrees, have served in significant roles for New York this season were let go by the Pittsburgh organization for no compensation.
Forward Matt Moulson went unsigned by the club after being taken in the ninth round of the 2003 NHL Draft, and defenseman Brian Strait was waived by the Penguins on the eve of the start of their regular season earlier this year.
Moulson has developed into one of the NHL's most consistent scoring wings with 112 goals over the past four seasons. Strait made such a strong initial impression on Long Island he was signed to a three-year contract extension six games into his Islanders tenure.
"I'm really excited about what we have built this year between the guys," said Strait, who appeared in three Stanley Cup Playoff games for Pittsburgh last season. "The trust we've built and getting over the hump and making the playoffs is something really special."
Moulson's path to Long Island -- and to becoming an NHL regular -- was more circuitous. After completing a four-year career at Cornell University, Moulson was signed by the Los Angeles Kings after the Penguins allowed his rights to expire.
Moulson appeared in 29 games in three seasons with Los Angeles, playing mostly for the Kings' American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester. Moulson scored 74 goals in 188 games for the Monarchs before signing with the Islanders during the summer of 2009.
He's appeared in all but one of New York's games since.
"When I landed here, things seemed to fall into place and I became real comfortable here," Moulson said.
"It's been a long road these last couple years to get to the playoffs, but this is a tight-knit group, and it's been a lot of fun battling with these guys."