Talk all you want about Drew Doughty as the likely winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy. It’s well-deserved. He’s been as incredible as they come in these playoffs, and his game-tying goal in Game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final was a highlight playoff MVP campaign enthusiasts could market to anyone.
But Doughty wants to talk about Justin Williams, the guy who set him up for that goal and then went on to score the overtime winner to give the Los Angeles Kings first blood in their series against the New York Rangers.
And, frankly, so should the people on the Conn Smythe voting committee.
Williams isn’t a guy often picked in the first few rounds of your playoff pools. There are at least a handful of teammates talked about more frequently, with Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick spending more time in the spotlight.
"He doesn't get enough credit for what he does,” Doughty continued. “There's two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that's him and Kopy (Anze Kopitar). When they have the puck, plays happen. As a defenseman, you love to watch it and that gives you opportunities to jump in offensively, too. At the same time, he works very, very hard at both ends of the ice and shows a lot of leadership."
People outside of NHL locker rooms are taking more notice of all of those attributes now.
Bolstered by three more Game 7s this spring, Williams has become a hot topic because of his incredible career statistics in those games. He averages a goal and an assist per game for an NHL-record 14 points in Game 7s, and his team has won all seven of those he’s appeared in.
Here’s a look at why teammates actually call him Mr. Game 7.
|2014||Los Angeles Kings||Chicago Blackhawks||West Final||1||1||2|
|San Jose Sharks||First||0||1||1|
|2013||Los Angeles Kings||San Jose Sharks||Second||2||0||2|
|2006||Carolina Hurricanes||Edmonton Oilers||Cup Final||1||0||1|
|Buffalo Sabres||East Final||1||2||3|
|2003||Philadelphia Flyers||Toronto Maple Leafs||First||1||2||3|
Two of his goals in those Game 7s have been game-winners. Two others padded a one-goal lead into two, including an empty-netter against the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 that secured the Stanley Cup for the Carolina Hurricanes.
But by no means are his clutch performances limited to Game 7s.
Which Kings player is the top candidate for the Conn Smythe?
Williams has 29 goals and 73 points in 111 career playoff games—good for 25th among active NHL players. His plus-32 rating is fifth best among those names.
Against the Sharks in Game 6 of their opening-round series this year, the third straight elimination game for the Kings after falling behind 3-0, Williams took charge with a two-goal, three-point night, which included the game-winner to extend the series.
He sits in the elite company of Pavel Datsyuk and Sidney Crosby with six playoff game-winning goals to rank in the top 21 active players.
But much of that is history.
The reason he should be talked about seriously as the potential Conn Smythe winner this spring is what he’s done to help the Kings get to the Cup Final…and become favorites to win it.
His eight goals and 20 points in 22 playoff games, a plus-13 rating and two game-winners is a good start.
Justin Williams' sixth multiple-point game of this year's playoffs, the most by any player. He has to be in Conn Smythe discussion now— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) June 5, 2014
He’s no perimeter player, either. The 6’1”, 189-pounder fits the Kings mold perfectly. He’s gritty and battles as hard as anyone along the boards.
His determination is what makes him such a strong possession player, which is ultimately why he’s able to get to the net so often.
Seidenberg on frmr PHI/Car teammate Justin Williams: "If U just look at him you might not think so but he's a really gritty competitive guy"— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) June 5, 2014
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter isn’t your typical advanced stat guru. He wouldn’t know Corsi from a Cornish hen or Fenwick from a farmhouse. However, even he knows what Williams’ value is when it comes to the possession game.
He talked about it recently with NHL.com writer Corey Masisak:
He hangs onto the puck, goes to traffic, hangs onto the puck, makes the plays. Takes a beating to make plays. He's a role model for young players, for sure. That's the big thing now is the stat, the possession stat, that guys talk about. Justin is for sure one of the top guys in the League.
According to ExtraSkater.com, Williams was fourth in Corsi-for percentage behind Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and teammates Jake Muzzin and Kopitar. Williams led the league the previous season.
In these playoffs, he’s the third-best scorer at even strength (even strength points per 60 minutes).
Sometimes, though, the only statistics that matter are the ones that anyone can see.
Like, for example, an overtime goal in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Turns out Mr. Game 7 is okay in Game 1, too— Mike Brophy (@HockeyBroph) June 5, 2014
Steve Macfarlane has been covering the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons with the Calgary Sun. Follow him on Twitter @macfarlaneHKY.
All stats are via NHL.com and ExtraSkater.com.