Justin Williams is a very good hockey player who becomes great in the playoffs. Season after season, the unassuming right wing finds ways to become a star in his teams’ biggest games.
That’s why his fellow Los Angeles Kings were thrilled when he got the ultimate reward for playoff performance — besides his third Stanley Cup ring, of course.
Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP on Friday night after cementing his big-game reputation with a postseason full of clutch play.
"I can’t believe I won that," Williams said, his thoughts immediately going to his Ontario hometown. "That will, I don’t think, ever, ever sink in. (I’m) the guy from Cobourg who played the game he loves and got to be surrounded with a lot of great teammates throughout my years."
The veteran forward beat out defenseman Drew Doughty in media voting for the honor after the Kings’ 3-2 double-overtime victory over the New York Rangers in Game 5.
Williams raised his steady game to brilliant heights in the postseason with nine goals and 16 assists, including the Kings’ first goal early in the clincher. He led all players with seven points in the finals, including a dramatic overtime goal in the series opener last week.
"It’s pretty sweet," Williams said. "To get that award and to get the ovation that I got from my teammates was pretty special and emotional for me."
Kings defenseman Alec Martinez earned his own clutch postseason reputation with series-winning goals against Chicago and New York, but even he bows to Williams’ late-game poise.
"Justin Williams is an unbelievable hockey player," Martinez said. "He has been around for so long. Such a great leader in the room, and can do special things with the puck. You guys call him Mr. Game 7. I think I’ve called him that a few times, too. I couldn’t be happier for him. He is a clutch player. He makes big plays in big games."
Williams also won it all with Carolina in 2006 and Los Angeles two years ago, and he played his biggest role yet during the Kings’ second championship run. Slotting into a third-line role alongside Jarret Stoll and Dwight King, he had three assists in the Kings’ double-overtime win over the Rangers in Game 2, and he added another assist in Game 3.
And before the Cup finals, Williams also reminded the hockey world why he’s called Mr. Game 7.
He had two goals and three assists in the Kings’ three Game 7 victories during their resilient playoff run, including timely goals against Anaheim and Chicago. Williams also had a pair of two-goal games when the Kings faced elimination in the first round against San Jose, becoming the fourth team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 series deficit.
Williams is 7-0 with seven goals and an NHL-record 14 points in Game 7s in his career. The Kings didn’t even have to go that far to raise their second Stanley Cup, although the double-OT clincher felt like it.
The 32-year-old Williams’ career has been about clutch play in elimination games: He is the only player in NHL history to score in the first four Game 7s of his career, and he memorably scored both goals for Los Angeles in its second-round clincher against San Jose last year.
During the regular season, Williams has fashioned a career as a dependable complementary player, filling any role necessary in coach Darryl Sutter’s defense-first scheme.
"What’s unique is he’s a consistent player every night, home and road," Sutter said this week. "He scores big goals, and he understands his role. A lot of times, players like that don’t understand their role."
Williams reached the NHL as a teenager with Philadelphia, but his career was slow to take off under several Flyers coaches. After being traded to Carolina in 2004, he played a significant role in their run to their only Stanley Cup title.
Williams is still beloved by Hurricanes fans for his empty-net goal with 1:01 left in Game 7 of the Cup finals against Edmonton, sealing the franchise’s only championship. But Carolina traded him to Los Angeles in March 2009 after he endured lengthy injury struggles, and Williams fit in splendidly with the Kings.
Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe in 2012, but Williams scored 15 points during that run, predictably raising his game when Los Angeles needed him.