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Williams wants to be 'cog in wheel' for Capitals

But 'Mr. Game 7' was brought in for playoff performance

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- In Justin Williams' home office is a replica of the Conn Smythe Trophy. The most valuable player of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs will glance at it "every now and then."

"But that's past," he said this week. "That's looking-back stuff."

Williams, 34, has little interest in looking back at his past as a three-time Stanley Cup winner and even less in talking about himself as the missing piece: "Mr. Game 7," or, as Washington Capitals teammate Karl Alzner called him Sunday, "Mr. Perfect."

Williams cringes a little at the suggestion he is the one who will finally get the Capitals over the hump (a term used frequently this week) in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup, which begins Thursday at Verizon Center with Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC, CSN-PH).

Video: CBJ@WSH: Williams puts the rebound past Bobrovsky

"I'm just a cog in the wheel here," Williams said. "I'm, hopefully, a part of the solution for us, and, all of us working together, I feel like we can do something special and it starts with one game. It starts Thursday."

Maybe Williams was just a cog in a machine that ran away with the Presidents' Trophy and set a Capitals record with 56 wins during the regular season. But Washington signed him to a two-year, $6.5 million contract on July 1 to be more than that in the playoffs.

Williams' track record -- Stanley Cup championships with the Carolina Hurricanes (2006) and Los Angeles Kings (2012 and 2014) -- and reputation as a clutch performer, evidenced by his 7-0 record and League-record-tying seven goals in Game 7, are what the Capitals coveted most. It was shortly after a Game 7 overtime loss to the New York Rangers in the second round last season they began to focus on the 6-foot-1, 186-pound right wing as their main target in unrestricted free agency.

The Capitals are 4-10 in Game 7 and haven't gotten past the second round since making their only Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998, when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. It may be too simple to say the playoffs are the reason Washington wanted Williams, but it's not far off either.

Video: WSH@NYI: Williams scores game-winner in overtime

"There's a lot of things in that sort of discussion when you talk about Justin," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "When you check the boxes off for what you want, you want quality people to add to your organization, you wanted to find someone who was a winner, you were looking for someone who had playoff success, and you're looking for a guy that is still productive in your price range. He checked off pretty well every box, and when he became available, we went and made a big pitch for him.

"We all talked to him. I think we sold him on a good fit. It got him closer to [New] Jersey where he has his summer home, and all the pieces seemed to fit. It might be too simple to say the playoff thing, but we looked at the person and a few other things with that as well, and he's come as advertised."

The veteran on the Capitals second line with Andre Burakovsky, 21, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, 23, Williams had 22 goals and 30 assists for 52 points in 82 regular-season games, his best season since he had 22 goals, 37 assists and 59 points with the Kings in 2011-12. He also fit seamlessly in the Capitals locker room with his easygoing personality.

Williams can keep things light by dancing along to "Cotton Eyed Joe," as he did while sitting on the bench last month in Ottawa, but that doesn't mean others won't look to him during serious moments in what the Capitals hope will be a long playoff run.

"I try to lead from my experiences and take everything that I can," Williams said. "I know in the playoffs it doesn't matter if you win a game in overtime or you win a game 6-1. It's just one, and you can't get too high, you can't get too low. You need to be prepared for everything. Playoff series are fun, and it's about not letting the other team get the best of you."

Video: WSH@NYR: Williams nets second goal on great setup

That Williams has come through at key times is proof he knows how to do that. During the Kings' run to their 2014 Stanley Cup, he had nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points in 26 playoff games, including two game-winning goals.

"He scored a lot in the playoffs against us," Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's a good player. I [coached] against him a lot. He's got character, he goes to the net, he does all of those things that you want your veterans to do."

Williams has three Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy from doing that. To him, those items are a part of his past and bring attention he doesn't seem to want.

"I really want to get the spotlight off of me," Williams said after playing his 1,000th NHL game Sunday. "This last little while it's been on me. I want to deflect things into the team now and I just want to fit in. I've done that so far, but I want to be a big part of the solution here in the next two months. I hope."

Tweet from @JustinWilliams: I've avoided you long enough Twitter. Let's dance. #myfirstTweet

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