Justin Williams is a member of each of the last two Stanley Cup finalists who have lost multiple closeout games in the championship series. Just as his Los Angeles Kings have done in 2012 versus the New Jersey Devils, his 2006 Carolina Hurricanes missed on back-to-back would-be knockout punches against the Edmonton Oilers.
That year, though, with a resultant Game 7 on home ice at the RBC Center, none other than Williams buried an empty-netter to finalize a 3-1 victory and make the third closeout attempt the charm.
One round earlier, in another Game 7 at home versus Buffalo, Williams assisted on a pair of go-ahead goals, then buried an insurance strike to cement a 4-2 win. And still another round prior, he set up Cory Stillman’s eventual clincher to put away the New Jersey Devils.
But wait. There’s more.
The only other year other than 2006 and 2012 where Williams has seen playoff action beyond the first round was in 2003. That season, he charged up two assists and scored the deciding goal to help his Philadelphia Flyers vanquish Toronto 6-1 in Game 7 of the conference quarterfinals.
With that history, it is little surprise that Williams tallied L.A.’s lone goal as part of the Kings’ 2-1 loss on Saturday, their second failed attempt to wrest the Cup away from the current Devils. But they will need more of that poised production from him if they want to avert a historic collapse, which they still have two opportunities to prevent.
And there is more to it besides his own experience with clutch scoring and neutralizing seeds of doubt, particularly in the championship round.
As Williams goes, so go his first-line colleagues, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. Ditto for the Kings’ power play.
From the start of the opening round through last Monday’s 4-0 victory that sculpted a 3-0 lead in the finals, Williams has gone no more than two straight game without an assist. He has tied Kopitar for the team lead with a total of 11.
Of those helpers, three have occurred as part of L.A.’s nine sparse postseason power-play conversions. Williams inserted another one himself as part of a two-point night last Monday in Game 3.
Another eight assists have constituted a collaboration with Brown and/or Kopitar, including Kopitar’s overtime strike in Game 1 against the Devils, Williams’ fourth game-winning assist of this playoff run.
Finishing one or two plays set up by Williams will not necessarily guarantee L.A. finishes off the Devils on Monday or even Wednesday. But not looking to him for inspiration and leaning on his exemplary play in crunch time would be nothing short of precarious for the Kings.