Kings' Justin Williams keeps coming up big for his team

Los Angeles Kings forward Justin Williams celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime against the...

Los Angeles Kings forward Justin Williams celebrates his game-winning goal in overtime against the New York Rangers during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, June 4, 2014. (HARRY HOW/Getty Images/AFP)

Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:23 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - This is what Justin Williams does.

He does it when it matters most, at impossible, improbable times and incredible moments. He does it when all can seem lost, when nobody is talking about him, when he seems like another guy named Williams trapped behind a playoff beard: Another anonymous woodsman near the end of this Stanley Cup journey.

Normally, he is Mr. Game 7 but there’s probably not going to be a Game 7 in this Stanley Cup final. “I’d like to call him Mr. Game 1, 2, 3, and 4,” said Willie Mitchell, the veteran Los Angeles defenceman, after Williams scored in overtime for a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers in the Cup final opener. “That’s all. You need four wins, don’t you. We’re just happy he’s with us.”

The Kings are just happy to have a win at all after a sloppy, giveaway-filled, unlikely, somewhat emotion free, more sloppy start to the final. They weren’t at their best. They weren’t at all dominant. They trailed 2-0, just not in games like the first round or 2-0 like the remarkable Game 7 in Chicago and then it wasn’t Mr. Game 7 who finished off the win for Los Angeles.

It was Mr. Automatic.

That’s what Justin Williams has become. He doesn’t make all-star teams. He doesn’t get mentioned for awards. He isn’t considered by anybody to the best of this or the best of that. All he does is matter when it matters most.

“He’s done this time and time again. I’m not sure I know why,” said Mitchell. “It goes deeper for us than this game or this year. We’ve come back before. We made a run to get in the playoffs (two years ago). And when you’ve done this before, you believe you can do it again.”

Williams believes and has always believed, even though not everybody has. He was a late first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers and most thought he would be taken later than that. He made the team as a teenager and was later traded to Carolina for Danny Markov. In Carolina, he won a Stanley Cup and was traded to Los Angeles for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second round draft picks.

Markov is long gone from the NHL and O’Sullivan really never made it. And here is Williams, back in the final for the second time in three years, three wins away from his third Stanley Cup, the leading scorer in Game 7s, just about the least likely great player who becomes great in the defining moments.

“We don’t make a habit out of doing this,” said Williams, through a smile that looked part happy, mostly exhausted. He thought his team was slow. He thought they struggled. He wasn’t sure about his own game.

The Kings didn’t look all that ready for Game 1 of the final, ready for the Rangers’ speed. They hung on for two periods, strangely dominated the third period while allowing the two best scoring chances of the period on breakaways that Jonathan Quick thwarted. But before and after, Williams did the Williams thing.

He waited, delayed and made a crisp, lovely pass to the hugely inconsistent Drew Doughty on the tying goal in the second period. Instead of a 2-0 first period, it was a 2-2 second period.

A Williams assist to tie the game. An overtime goal at 4:36 to win it. It was the kind of play that makes hockey statistics meaningless. A puck bounced in one direction. Bounced over another player. Defenceman Joe Girardi fell. And Williams managed what goal scorers did, he slid to the open ice with no knowledge the puck was coming in his direction. He got there, the puck didn’t leave the zone as it should have, and he shot the puck in a place where there seemed no room on Henrik Lundqvist. But that’s when goal scorer often score, when there’s no room, nothing to see, just fire and score.

Pretty much the only thing Darryl Sutter liked about the Kings was the fact they won.

The coach called Quick his best player and despite the one-sided shots on goal in the game and the third period, he was probably correct. The two Quick saves in the third period were monumental. But sometimes they get lost in the blur that can be overtime, when a guy known for hitting these notes, hits another one.

“We didn’t have our legs out there at all, so it’s pretty good to get a win,” said Mitchell. The Kings felt fortunate. The Rangers must feel like they let one get away. They were up 2-0 in the first period, were watching the supposedly invincible Kings tripping all over themselves, unable to contain the Rangers at even strength or when New York was shorthanded.

Then it happened. Overtime. Williams the hero yet again.

“Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile,” said Doughty, almost embarrassing Williams with his words. “He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does.”

He does now.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

 


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