Will the nickname — Mr. Game 7 — find its way into deep storage for the summer months and get packed away, perhaps to be unveiled in future postseasons?
Kings right wing Justin Williams summoned his late-series magic and brought it out uncommonly early against the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final. He scored the winning goal at 4 minutes 36 seconds of overtime as the Kings beat the Rangers, 3-2, in Game 1 on Wednesday at Staples Center.
Williams and the Kings are three games away from winning their second Stanley Cup in three years. Granted, it’s still a long road, but if Williams keeps scoring clutch goals maybe they won’t require a bravura performance from Mr. Game 7 in Game 7.
“I’d like to call him Mr. Game 1, 2, 3 and 4,” Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. “It takes four wins. If he can do that three more times, that would be really nice.”
Said Kings left wing Kyle Clifford: “You know all about him. He’s a special player. With this group, we’ve always known he was Captain Clutch. It’s special to share a locker room with him.”
Williams has eight goals and 20 points in this playoff run, and is 7-0 in career Game 7s, including three during this postseason.
“At first, it’s maybe lucky, but then you see it over and over again,” said Kings center Mike Richards, who set up the game-winner after jumping on a turnover by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi. “He just finds those areas and finds ways to step up in big situations. Tonight was no different.”
Of course, Williams is the man of many nicknames: Stick, JWill, Captain Clutch, Mr. Game 7 … and now Mr. Game 1. The accolades tend to embarrass him and he looked that way when Kings defenseman Drew Doughty heaped praise on him at the podium.
Williams gave credit to Richards for setting up the goal and went on to talk about the ways the Kings need to improve for Game 2.
“We certainly don’t want to make a habit out of this,” Williams said of the sluggish start. “That is a world-class team up there with world-class offense. There could have been a lot of story lines tonight. They had a breakaway in the end of the third period [by Carl Hagelin] that [Jonathan] Quick made a great save on, we wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”
The running-on-fumes Kings survived a game full of dodgy moments, rallying from a 2-0 first-period deficit. They tied on it goals by Clifford at 17:33 of the first and a brilliant toe-drag goal by Doughty at 6:36 of the second, set up by Williams.
In fact, the Kings have played consecutive overtime games and required overtime in three of their last four games. They got better as they went along, outshooting the Rangers, 20-3, in the third period.
“I think [the Rangers] had a lot of energy and were fresh,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. “If you look at their playoffs in the first periods, they’ve had really good first periods every game. You look at it, not I think, I know, that we were not on full tanks.”
Sutter said that his goalie, Quick, was their best player, and Quick prevented the game from turning into a runaway in the opening period. Benoit Pouliot took advantage of a Doughty miscue and scored on a breakaway at 13:21 and Hagelin’s short-handed goal, which deflected in off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s skate made it 2-0 at 15:03.
The Kings used an unusual combination for Game1 success. There were the usual suspects such as Quick and Doughty.
Then there was Clifford, who hadn’t scored since Dec. 11 against Toronto, and had the goal and an assist.
Williams, though, has been their spiritual leader.
“I’ve said this many times: Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” Doughty said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does. There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that’s him and Kopi [Anze Kopitar].
“When they have the puck, plays happen.”