Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Game 7. It's all about Justin Williams

By Larry Wigge

He was in the right spot ... at the right time.

That tells the story of Justin Williams and the success he has had in Game 7's.

"Game 7," said Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "It is all about Justin Williams. His game is about scoring and offense and ..."

Sutter left us dangling when his quote on Williams stopped.

The only two goals the Kings scored in Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks were scored by the 31-year-old from Cobourg, Ontario, vaulting the Kings to a 2-1 victory. But Williams is becoming the master of Game 7's -- he has scored in every one of the four he had played in and his team won. Five goals and four assists to be exact.

Quite a legacy.

"I like when our backs are against the wall," he said. "The ability to win when it's do or die."

Breaking a scoreless tie four minutes and 11 seconds into the second period on a power play, the Kings were fortunate when Slava Voynov's broken stick shot has eyes missing a diving Logan Couture and Marc-Edward Vlasic and came off the end boards. Sharks goalie Ante Niemi thought he had the puck tied up with his right pad.

But ...

"I don't think Niemi saw the puck," Williams said. "I was able to whack, whack, whack ... and it went in."

That Williams was able to flip the puck over Niemi and into the net was a marvelous job of patience and fighting to get it free.

With the crowd still roaring, Williams finished made it 2-0 at 7:08 on an odd-man rush as Anze Kopitar fed him a pass on the left wing circle for a one-time shot that just squeezed by Niemi.

"I could've had four goals," Williams said.

Right place. Right time.

We follow the puck all the time, it's just plain common sense. So why not trace the play back to about 10 seconds before the play happened.

That where you will find Justin Williams ... all the time.

"In the playoffs, everything is going to be tight," Williams said. "One play ... one pass ... one hit ... is important."

In the strike-shortened lockout, Williams had 11 goals and 22 assists in 48 games. In 13 playoffs games, he now has four goals and two assists -- primarily because of a knee injury.

But he found the gumption to succeed in Game 7.

"There are certain players you see in the draft and want, but don't get a chance to pick them for one reason or another ... and then you get a call a few years later and suddenly that young, talented kid you wanted so badly becomes part of a trade conversation," Kings GM Dean Lombardi said of his interest in Williams as far back as the draft. "I was a scout with the Flyers in 2004, when (Hurricanes GM) Jim Rutherford called Bobby Clarke (my boss at the time) ... once again. Rutherford had to have Justin. But I knew I knew how much Bobby liked him. He had big plans for him."

Rutherford's eyes lit up and a smile crossed his face. 

"It was just our luck that the Flyers ran into some injuries on their defense," Rutherford continued. "Bob Clarke called to see if I'd part with Danny Markov. I paused for just a second and then said, 'I will if you give me Justin Williams.' I know Bob didn't want to part with Justin. But his call came at the right time for us, because of the injuries the Flyers had on their back line." 

Same thing happened with the Kings, when Carolina called Lombardi with the same kind of request in March of 2009 at the trade deadline. The Hurricanes needed Patrick O'Sullivan to complete a trade to reacquire Erik Cole from Edmonton. Williams was actually on the injured reserve list at the time. But we wanted him ... and it was the right time.

Williams was just saying the other day that it seems like just yesterday that he was pretending to play for the Stanley Cup with his friends in the basement of the family's Cobourg home.

"There were holes in the dry wall of our basement from where we shot the puck," he said, laughing. 

Craig and Denise Williams, Justin's parents, don't mind the basement repairs any longer now that their son is playing for the real Stanley Cup and had successful scored the tying goal, 4-4, en route to Carolina's 5-4 victory in Game 1 of the 2006 Cup finals.

"My mom and dad were like basket cases during the Buffalo series, pacing outside the house wondering what kind of a list they would have to leave," he laughed. "You know ... important things ... like yard work in case they had to come to Raleigh for the finals." 

But Williams had IT. When he showed promise after being chosen in the first round of the 2000 draft, 28th overall, by the Flyers. He showed it again, when he won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and again with the Kings last year. 

Speed is what attracted the Flyers to draft him in the first round in 2000. And it's speed, size and a scoring touch that Rutherford always had in mind for the 6-1, 190-pounder. 

It's funny, but I remember Jeremy Roenick telling me a few years back when he was playing on a line with Justin that the youngster reminded him of a younger version of himself ... about 10 years earlier when he had the skating legs that Williams has. 

"He's a tenacious, hard-forechecking, two-way hockey player," Roenick told me. "And you watch, he's going to turn his tenacity into scoring opportunities and points in the near future." 

A Montreal Canadiens fan as a kid, Williams said he modeled himself after Owen Nolan, a gritty, two-way player who can score goals had been an effective power forward for Quebec/Colorado, San Jose and Toronto.

Nolan was a power forward. Just like Williams, he could always be found ... at the right place at the right time. 

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