There are 18 current Kings who have played in a Game 7. Of those 19, 11 made their debuts in last year’s 2-1 white knuckled win over the Sharks at Staples Center on May 28.
Most of those with Game 7 experience have chipped in with the occasional point here and there. Slava Voynov had a pair of assists against the Sharks in last year’s deciding game. Marian Gaborik, who was not on that Los Angeles team, has a goal and an assist over four Game 7s. Mike Richards, the team’s second highest Game 7 point producer, has three points spread over four decisive games.
And then there is Justin Williams, the living, breathing, puck possessing Game 7 trump card.
“He’s one of our older players, so he’s played a lot of playoff games, so that experience generally is why teams try and have players like that if they think their teams are close to winning,” Darryl Sutter said.
Williams was 21 years old when he posted a goal and two assists and was named the first star in helping Philadelphia reach the second round in a 6-1 win over Toronto on April 22, 2003. With another goal and two assists on June 1, 2006, he led Carolina to a 4-2 win over Buffalo in the Eastern Conference Final. He followed that up 18 days later with a Stanley Cup-clinching Game 7 empty net goal in a 3-1 win over Edmonton. Last year, he potted a pair of second period goals in a 2-1 squeaker over San Jose.
That’s five goals, four assists and nine points in four games. More importantly, his teams are 4-0 in these decisive games.
“He’s been in this position many times before,” Jonathan Quick said. “He’s been on teams that figured out ways to win those types of games. I think you learn from those experiences. He’s a guy that’s certainly been through a lot of those experiences, so he’s a wealth of knowledge of how to succeed in those situations.”
Most of the Kings will tell you that past production is exactly that – accomplishments from days that have little bearing on tonight’s game. But if you ask any man in the room, like Quick they’ll be eager to spout the intangibles that the 32-year-old forward brings to a team that has played in 44 playoff games since 2012, the most out of any National Hockey League team.
“He doesn’t get a lot of credit for what he does for our team,” Drew Doughty said. “Justin is an unbelievable player. He’s a great guy in the room. He’s got the experience. He’s a good leader and a lot of little things – like getting under the other team’s skin – he’s really good at that. He gets guys rattled and you can see guys taking liberty at him.”
Having clawed back from a three-nothing series hole, the Kings haven’t quite scaled the mountain, even if they’re a ways up from base camp.
“We want to be a team that came back all the way,” Williams said. “We don’t want to be a team that said we forced a Game 7. We want to be able to win it. Now we gave ourselves a chance.”
Eight teams have emerged from three-nothing deficits to produce a Game 7, with three teams – the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (over Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final), the 1975 New York Islanders (over Pittsburgh in an NHL quarterfinal) and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers (over Boston in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals) – succeeding in erasing one of sports’ most notorious deficits.
It’s an interesting footnote if not a motivating factor for the Kings, who will be playing for the players sitting next to and across from each other, and not to have their names read aloud the next time a team erases a three-nothing series deficit.
“That part would be cool, too. But I know all of us in the room, the whole history thing and all the stats and stuff, we don’t care,” Doughty said. “We just want to win for each and every single one of us. We just want to win so badly and we’re going to do everything it takes.”
Having Williams certainly doesn’t hurt. The shifty, puck possession dynamo with a fiery competitive streak has accentuated his playoff production over the team’s last three postseasons. Beginning with the 2012 Stanley Cup run, Williams’ .66 points per game over the club’s 44 playoff games is higher rate than his .64 points per game since the beginning of the 2011-12 regular season. He has appeared in every Kings game over that stretch.
“He loves this time, but he loves the pressure situations, and he seems to just embrace it,” said Mike Richards, whose words carry weight. The two-way center has averaged more points per game in the playoffs than the regular season throughout his entire career.
“He’s just excited for every game, and he’s vocal. He’s just a competitor. He’s not the biggest guy. He’s – I don’t want to say skinny – but he’s a smaller guy. Man, does he ever battle out there. It doesn’t matter how big he is, or how big the other person is. For a guy as competitive as he is, he usually comes up with the puck and is a really big emotional leader for our team…leading us with how hard he works and how competitive he is on the puck. His personality, I think, just pulls everybody into the fight.”
The fight continues on Wednesday in the hostile environment of a well-established rival. Los Angeles and San Jose will play their 41st game against each other, dating back four seasons.
If the Kings are to advance, they’re going to need to top just about all of those previous 40 performances – and that’s something that Williams and his teammates are cognizant of.
“We’re going to have to play our best game of the series, no doubt,” Williams said.
Take his word for it – he knows a thing or two about these situations.