From helping the Carolina Hurricanes dominate in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals to making a push with the Washington Capitals over these past couple years, Justin Williams has an impressive resume that qualifies him as a playoff hero.
Much like T.J. Oshie is known for his shootout success, Williams has been a key in many different runs. With his contract set to expire in July, the 35-year-old winger is proving his worth to the Capitals and shining the spotlight on himself as the playoffs begin. Here is how he built himself up to not only stand out as a top-six forward but to make himself a key part of any Cup-ready squad.
Justin Williams – Where It All Began: Carolina
Part of the Hurricanes’ 2005-06 team, Williams was a vital top-line forward for the team. With already years of experience under his belt, Williams proved to remain consistent while also putting up strong numbers, posting 31 goals and 76 points through 82 games. He finished second on the team in scoring, behind captain Eric Staal and his 100-point campaign.
In the postseason, Williams made quite the impact as he went for his first Stanley Cup. He brought the Hurricanes to new heights, proving to be one of the shining stars among the likes of Staal and Cam Ward. He finished the postseason campaign with seven goals and 11 points over 25 playoff games, as well as a plus-12 rating. To add to his heroics, he clinched Carolina’s championship with an empty netter to end Game 7 against the Oilers, which would also become the start of his nickname, “Mr. Game 7.”
What made Justin Williams so dynamic in that series was his ability to be not only a clutch forward, but a solid two-way player who could backcheck efficiently and play both ends of the rink. He was a smart player, and though still young, acted as a leader. It was the first time he truly shined as a playoff hero, and that first Cup would set him up for many more historic runs.
The King Amongst Kings: Mr. Game 7
After Carolina traded Williams to the Los Angeles Kings during the 2008-09 campaign, he tried to prove his worth and potential to help the Kings reach the Cup. After joining the team, the Kings did not fail to make the postseason until after he left. Finally, in 2011-12, Williams got to prove his worth as the team rallied for a deep playoff run.
In 20 games, Williams scored four goals and 15 points en route to his second Stanley Cup. Not only was he an asset offensively, but also made a huge impact off the ice, showing his worth as a leader and being a positive influence in the locker room. In an interview with ESPN, former Kings forward Jarret Stoll recalled a passionate speech Williams gave before Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, saying it made a huge impact that sparked the team and helped them capture the Cup.
What made him most prominent was his impressive record in Game 7s. In 2014, the Kings found themselves down in the first round against the San Jose Sharks, Justin Williams and his clutch goals eventually helped send Los Angeles to the second round against Anaheim. In that Game 7, he scored the opening goal on the power play, and then assisted on the final goal in that game.
After that, the series was on the tape of Williams’ stick in the Conference Finals against Chicago. Williams helped the Kings come back from a 2-0 deficit and then assisted on the overtime winner that sent them to the Stanley Cup Final. There, the Kings had no problem handling the New York Rangers, and won the Cup in five games. Williams was also a key player in that run, scoring an overtime winner en route to the Kings’ series win.
Deservingly, Williams was awarded the Conn Smythe as the most valuable player of the playoffs; he finished with nine goals and 25 points in 26 games and broke an NHL record. He holds the record for the most points in a Game 7 with 14 (seven goals, seven assists), and he is 7-0 in those scenarios in which he scores.
Williams is a leader in the Capitals’ locker room and is still proving himself as a vital part of the team, even at 35 years of age. He has more Game 7 victories than the franchise does in its 43-year history and serves as a mentor to the rest of his team. Williams is set to become an unrestricted free agent this season, but may just earn himself an extension. Besides, he’s already making a case as to why he deserves one.
In Game 1, Washington struggled greatly to start the game. They came out with little energy, and let the Leafs jump to a 2-0 lead about 10 minutes into the opening period. However, Williams stepped up and managed a power-play goal to make the score 2-1 heading into the intermission. After that, he made his impact off the ice, and told the locker room to relax, establishing that “enough is enough” and that the team had to regroup and come back strong.
“He’s definitely got the room,” Tom Wilson told CSNMA. “When he talks, you listen. He said some things, he went out there and led the way with his performance.”
Following the first intermission, Williams scored another goal to even the score, allowing the team to head into overtime and take Game 1 with a 3-2 victory off a goal from Wilson.
As the team looks like it is prepared to take home its first Stanley Cup in NHL history, Williams is surely ready to help carry the team, whether it’s on or off the ice.
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.