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Islanders Insider: Brian Strait a physical presence in playoffs

Brian Strait of the Islanders checks Sidney Crosby

Brian Strait of the Islanders checks Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the CONSOL Energy Center. (May 3, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Brian Strait wants to be the bad guy for the Islanders this series.

Not just because of his openly stated goal to stick it to the Penguins for waiving him before this season began, but also to draw attention away from the Islanders' stars.

He accomplished that mission in Game 2, knocking Sidney Crosby to the ice with a clean hit in the second period and then drawing a penalty when Jarome Iginla hit Strait in retaliation.

"I'm on top of my game when I play physical," said Strait, who also mixed it up with Penguins pest Matt Cooke on Friday. "If that makes me a target, so be it. If they're more worried about me than our skill guys, I don't know what to tell you."

Strait had moved into a secure role as one of the Islanders' regular six defensemen after the Islanders picked him up off waivers from Pittsburgh, but a broken ankle 15 games into the season sidelined Strait for two months. He played the final four games of the regular season and both playoff games thus far; Game 2 was really the first of those where he looked like the player who opened eyes in the organization.

"I think his conditioning level is back where it needs to be," Jack Capuano said. "That's how he played before the injury."

Okposo not sticking to plan

Kyle Okposo scored the winner in Game 2 with a neon-orange stick. That might not have been noteworthy, except that Okposo had been using a different Easton stick for the entire season, deciding to switch to the day-glo look with a new shipment that arrived just after the regular season ended.

"I broke a lot of the other ones this year," said Okposo, who snapped one final regular-season stick during practice last week. "I'm not very finicky about equipment or sticks -- if one feels right, I'll use it."

Okposo's Game 2 goal was his first since April 4, a span of 10 regular-season games and one playoff game.

Nilsson rescues lost season

Anders Nilsson joined the Islanders for the playoffs, practicing as the third goaltender. He's happy just to be able to be on the ice after missing three months of the AHL season with a mysterious ailment that sapped him of energy and caused weight loss.

Nilsson said he was discovered to have a severe vitamin deficiency and have both gluten and dairy allergies. A change in diet and vitamin supplements allowed him to play the final two games of Bridgeport's season.

"It was pretty much the whole year I tried to figure out what was wrong," the 23-year-old said. "I tried to play through it, but it was just too difficult. I would sleep for 10 hours, wake up and feel like I never slept for one minute."

Nilsson split time with Kevin Poulin through January before doctors shut Nilsson down to get to the root cause of his fatigue.

"It feels so much different now -- I can work hard on the ice or in the gym," he said. "It was a tough year, but I learned a lot. You live, you learn, right?"


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