Justin Williams is a two-time Stanley Cup winner with a track record for Game 7 production, but even he never turned in a performance like the one he did on Tuesday in the Los Angeles Kings’ 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center.
Last year the Kings mostly trampled their opposition en route to the Cup (save the final series, which they won in six games), depriving the right wing of his chance for Game 7 heroics. In fact, it had been seven years since Williams last laced up his skates in a Game 7.
But his performance on Tuesday is the kind of stuff that can make a playoff legend. The 31-year-old scored both goals as the Kings continued their quest to defend the Cup in the Western Conference finals. They will face the winner of Wednesday’s Game 7 between Chicago and Detroit.
In 2006 when Williams won the Cup for the first time with Carolina, his Game 7 goal came in the form of an empty-netter in the Hurricanes’ 3-1 win over Edmonton in the Cup Final. One series earlier, he also scored the final goal of the game as the Hurricanes eliminated Buffalo with a 4-2 win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
How good was Williams on Tuesday? So good that he should have had a natural hat trick all within a 4:06 stretch of the second period were it not for an amazing save by San Jose goalie Antti Niemi on an 18-foot one-timer.
Prior to that, Williams, through sheer force of will, took a rebound off the backboards and with his second hack at it managed to pop the puck over Niemi’s outstretched right leg for a power-play goal.
Less than three minutes later, his delayed one-timer, if you will, from Anze Kopitar beat Niemi from the left circle before the goalie could get across the crease. Williams held on to the puck for a fraction of a second before shooting past Niemi.
How about that Johnny Quick?
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was unbelievable during his first Game 7. He made 25 saves and took a beating in the crease again as the Sharks tried to get him off his game.
No save was bigger than the one he made in the third period with his team up 2-1 and Joe Pavelski staring at a lot of empty net.
Kings captain Dustin Brown approves of that message.
Brown on Quick’s key stop on Pavelski: ‘It’s not like you expect him to make those saves, but you expect him to make those saves, right?
Over and over on Tuesday in Patrick Roy’s introduction as the Colorado Avalanche’s new coach/vice president of hockey operations the word that came up the most often was “passion.”
“No one is more passionate about this game,” said Joe Sakic, Roy’s former teammate, fellow Hall of Famer and Avalanche executive vice president of hockey operations.
Roy, who backstopped the Avalanche to two Stanley Cup titles, used the word himself numerous times, promising to bring the same passion as a coach as he did as a player.
“To all Avalanche fans,” Roy said during a press conference that was televised live by the NHL Network, “rest assured I will bring the same passion to my new role.”
Few teams draw interest because of their coaches. When the NHL season begins next October, Roy will flip that dynamic, making his tenure behind the bench must-see-TV – a big change for the increasingly irrelevant Avs. Having taken the last decade to recharge his batteries, his passion will be palpable for all to witness.
Wings and Hawks Game 7: 48 years in the making
It seems appropriate that in the Detroit Red Wings’ final season in the Western Conference and last in the same division as arch-rival Chicago that they will face the Blackhawks in a Game 7 on Wednesday for the first time in 48 years.
Down 3-1 in the series, the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Blackhawks have rallied to force Game 7 at the United Center and, as a result, will try to ensure that their record-setting first half of the regular season will not go for naught.
Clearly, the Red Wings, whom some thought would not even qualify for the playoffs, let alone stand a win away from the conference finals, have more experience in Game 7 situations. Since 2009, the Red Wings are 4-1 in Game 7s, including the first round a few weeks ago when they eliminated No. 2-seed Anaheim. The Red Wings’ only loss in a Game 7 over the last five seasons came in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final to Pittsburgh, coincidentally, when they also held a 3-2 series lead.
Conversely, Chicago’s core players only have one example of Game 7 experience, losing to Vancouver 2-1 in overtime in 2011. In that first-round series, Vancouver was the Presidents’ Trophy winner and Chicago, defending Cup champions at the time, battled back from an 0-3 deficit before succumbing.