He was Mr. Game 7, the player the Kings could rely on to be at his best when the pressure was at its worst.
Right wing Justin Williams, a very good player during the regular season, becomes an extraordinary player during the playoffs for reasons even he can't quite fully explain. He wants the puck on his stick, wants the responsibility, and never was he more successful than during a playoff run the Kings ended Friday with a 3-2 double-overtime victory over the New York Rangers that clinched their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons.
Williams scored the Kings' first goal Friday, about four hours before Alec Martinez pounced on the rebound of a shot by Tyler Toffoli and rifled it past the stick side of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to trigger a roar that shook Staples Center. It felt like four weeks had passed between the time he scored and the tearful moment he was handed the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, a moment that was enhanced by the presence of family members who had helped him go from small-town Cobourg, Canada, to becoming a three-time Cup champion.
"You win the Stanley Cup for obviously yourself and your teammates, but the thing that makes it extra special is to share the jubilation, the excitement of the pinnacle of your hockey career with the people who cheered for you since day one, the people who love you," said Williams, who won his first title with Carolina in 2006.
"That's what makes it pretty emotional for me."
The man who brought Williams here in a 2009 trade, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi, was almost speechless when he considered what Williams had done in the Kings' long and sometimes bumpy playoff run.
"Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous," Lombardi said of the man who has almost as many nicknames — Willie, Stick, JWill, Mr. Game 7 — as he had playoff goals.
"How special is that? You always see those guys that don't get a lot of fanfare but rise to the occasion. Probably one of the best ever in all of sports. It's awesome. He's a special, special player."
And, now, a player who will have his name on the Conn Smythe Trophy and again, on the Cup.
"I can't believe I won that," Williams said at a postgame news conference he shared with his son, Jaxon. "That will, I don't think, ever, ever sink in."
Williams was the right choice as MVP, though center Anze Kopitar, winger Marian Gaborik — whose power-play goal brought the teams even at 2-2 at 7:56 of the third period — or defenseman Drew Doughty would have been good picks too.
Williams had two goals and seven points in the Cup Final, leading all scorers in the five games, and he finished with nine goals and 25 points in the Kings' 26-game playoff odyssey. During that trek, he improved his record in Game 7s to 7-0 over his career, with seven goals and 14 points.
Most important, Williams symbolizes the Kings and how they won this championship. They did it with a lot of hard work, a deep reserve of resilience and timely scoring from players like him.
"He was a difference-maker," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "It could have been any number of guys. But that's what a great team is about. I love him."
After starting with three losses to San Jose in the first round, the Kings were on the verge of elimination — but Williams scored twice in Game 4 and twice more in Game 6 to keep them alive for a Game 7 win on the road.
Against the Ducks in the second round, he scored the Kings' first goal in Game 7, at Anaheim, helping launch them to the West Final against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. He scored in Game 2 and again in Game 7 as the Kings moved on to the Stanley Cup Final. He continued to lead and to score against the Rangers, including the overtime winner in Game 1 against New York and three assists in Game 2.
When Williams joined the Kings in 2009, he had his arm in a sling and the deal didn't appear to be one of the club's finest. On Friday, that arm was fine as he lifted first the Conn Smythe Trophy and then the Cup.
"Dean Lombardi has given me a great opportunity here," Williams said. "He saw somebody, a player that not a lot of people saw. He gave me a chance, he gave me another opportunity, where my career wasn't going the way I wanted it to. I was able to be a piece of this puzzle, the team that he built."
He's a winner on a team full of winners, a team that's in position to contend for years to come.
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