Yes, the Carolina Hurricanes are in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Unless you are totally unplugged this is fast-becoming old news. The ‘Canes media – of which I am a fortunate part – is covering this wonderful achievement from every angle.
With Game 1 of the Hurricanes versus the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals Thursday night, a look at the team captain Justin Williams is appropriate. He’s one of the main reasons they are back in the playoffs after a decade. The difference he has made to this team is nearly immeasurable. He’s “Mr. Game 7,” and a great captain, too.
Williams: The Journey
Williams went from the Hurricanes to the Los Angeles Kings and then to the Capitals before returning to the Hurricanes in 2017. He has been an impactful player wherever he has gone. That is why it was such a mind-boggling move when former Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters did not name Williams the team captain. Everyone and their brother was certain it would be him, but Peters named team co-captains instead.
After that did not work, and Peters eventually left for the Calgary Flames, new head coach Rod Brind’Amour did what everyone expected and believed was the right move and named Williams the Hurricanes’ team captain. That decision was one of Brind’Amour’s most important. The Hurricanes are not likely to be in the playoffs if Brind’Amour did not make Williams captain.
Williams Knows Playoff Hockey
Very few players have had the variety of Stanley Cup Playoff experience that Williams has participated in over his NHL career. He has grateful Hurricanes fans and also grateful fans of the Kings. He helped lead the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2006. He also did the same with the Kings in 2012 and in 2014, the year he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hurricanes fans remember well that Williams scored seven goals and added 11 assists in 25 games for the Hurricanes during the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs. His goal to seal the deal for the Hurricanes to win the Stanley Cup was just one of his Game 7 heroics that have earned him the nickname, “Mr. Game 7.”
Williams bio at NHL.com gives further details: His penchant for coming through in winner-take-all situations has also earned Williams the moniker of “‘Mr. Game 7’ with an NHL-record 14 points in Game 7s throughout his career. Williams has also scored seven goals in Game 7s to match an NHL record shared with Hockey Hall of Fame member Glenn Anderson. Williams used that sense of timing during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs when he helped lead the Los Angeles Kings to a second Stanley Cup title in three seasons. Williams finished that playoff run with nine goals and 25 points, including two goals and five points in three Game 7 victories in the first three rounds.”
Williams the Captain
When the Hurricanes’ season looked like it was going to go the way that seasons have gone for them over the past nine years, Williams proved that he was not just a Game 7 kind of guy, but a pretty good captain, too. In late December, the team was looking they were done. To some anyway, but not to Williams.
He led by example in that he did not give up. The Hurricanes’ win over the Philadelphia Flyers on New Year’s Eve was the turning point of the season. The team believed – because Brind’Amour and Williams believed – that what they were doing was right, and it paid off in a big way. The Hurricanes are back in the playoffs.
Williams’ determination lasted the entire second half of the season. For example, Adam Gold, a local sports radio host wrote on Feb. 21 about how Williams scored by allowing the puck to bounce off his face. They won that game against the Florida Panthers 4-3, another game influenced by the “whatever it takes” heart of Williams.
Williams has used his own play as an example, has chewed guys out when necessary, and used the novelty of celebrating home wins in a radically different way to motivate the team. All of it together has worked. What is now known as “A Bunch of Jerks” is a group of young players and a few veterans who nobody wants to play. Taking them for granted could prove to be a big mistake.
Why? Because they believe. They have hot goaltending and a captain who is willing to lay it all on the ice. This determination and belief surge up and down the lines causing every player to do the same. Williams is “Mr. Game 7,” and he might just earn another nickname like “Giantkiller” if the defending champion Capitals are not careful.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.