Kings forward Williams wins Conn Smythe Trophy
LOS ANGELES -- Justin Williams might never be called a legend like some of his favorite players were when he was growing up, but what the Los Angeles Kings forward has accomplished in his hockey career is nothing short of legendary.
Williams is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner.
"There is no one that is better than him," Kings president Luc Robitaille said.
Williams scored the first goal Friday in a 3-2 double-overtime win against the New York Rangers in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center. He had two goals, including the overtime winner in Game 1, and five assists for seven points that led the series.
Williams had nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He had five points in three Game 7 wins, and his 14 points in seven career Game 7s are an NHL record, one better than Doug Gilmour. Williams' seven Game 7 goals are tied with Glenn Anderson for the NHL record.
"He's the only guy that has that many points in Game 7s. He's alone," Robitaille continued. "He can't be compared to anybody. You think (quarterback) Joe Montana in big games, but that is it. You can't think of other big guys in big games that many times in so many years. It's truly incredible what this guy has done in his career. He's alone. He beat [Wayne] Gretzky, Gilmour, everybody. He's alone."
Williams isn't entirely comfortable with his budding legend. That status, he believes, is reserved for stars such as Gretzky and Sergei Fedorov, his two favorite players when growing up in Cobourg, Ontario.
Williams, now 32, is a self-described gritty, feisty, competitive guy, another piece of the puzzle for the Kings.
Williams won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and twice with the Kings in the past three seasons. In each run he's played a vital role, but never more so than this spring.
He was rewarded with an individual trophy previously won by Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Patrick Roy, Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, Steve Yzerman, Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur and Bobby Orr, among so many other legends.
"I can't believe I won that," Williams said as he sat at the press conference podium with his son Jaxon in his lap. "That will, I don't think, ever, ever sink in."
Maybe not, but nobody who plays with Williams is surprised.
"You can throw all the stats out the window -- and he's had tremendous stats, especially in Game 7s -- because there's something else about him," Kings center Anze Kopitar said before Game 5. "He really glues this team together."
Kopitar, like defenseman Drew Doughty did earlier in the series, referred to Williams as an underrated player. But that might not be the case anymore.
Think about it; how can a player who has won the Stanley Cup three times, and now owns a Conn Smythe Trophy, be referred to as underrated?
Kings coach Darryl Sutter prefers to use a different word to describe Williams: "Unique."
So unique, in fact, when Sutter was asked Tuesday to compare Williams to another player, the coach hemmed and hawed, delivered a few of his trademark facial expressions, then finally said he needed a day to think of one.
He was stumped until Wednesday, when prior to Game 4 Sutter was asked if he had thought of a comparison to Williams. He did, but you could tell even he knew he was stretching.
"The only player I could come up with that was real similar in terms of big games and veteran experience and consistency, playing for a long time, playing on championships, was Martin Gelinas," Sutter said.
Gelinas played in the Stanley Cup Final four times, but his only championship came in his rookie season with the 1990 Edmonton Oilers. Williams is 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.
Gelinas never had more than 15 points in a single postseason. Williams had at least 15 in each of his three championship runs. Gelinas never won the Conn Smythe Trophy. Williams has.
"What's unique is, he's a consistent player every night, home and road, and he scores big goals and he understands his role," Sutter said of Williams. "A lot of times players like that don't understand their role. I think 'unique' is another way of saying very consistent, very solid, understanding your role on a good hockey team."
Williams won't argue with any of that. All he ever wants to do is play his role and be a team guy.
A first-round pick (No. 28 in the 2000 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers), he was a two-time 30-goal scorer with the Hurricanes but was heading in the wrong direction when the Kings acquired him late in the 2008-09 season.
"[Kings general manager] Dean Lombardi has given me a great opportunity here," Williams said. "He saw somebody, a player that not a lot of people saw. He gave me a chance, he gave me another opportunity, when my career wasn't going the way I wanted it to. I was able to be a piece of this puzzle, the team that he built. I'm privileged to play on this team with all the great players."
Williams is one of those players, even though he doesn't think of himself that way.
"I don't do anything flashy out there," he said. "I'm not the fastest skater. I don't have the greatest shot. I just try and do the best I can out there with what I have. I feel my smarts and my instincts have gotten me where I am, and my competitiveness."
That competitiveness drove Williams to the forefront in every important game this spring.
"The bigger the games get, he's always showing up, making the big play," Kings center Jarret Stoll said.
Look at Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks. Williams took the puck down the right side and drew defenders to him before slotting a pass to Kopitar for the go-ahead goal at 18:39 of the second period. The Kings scored three times in the third to win 5-1.
Look at Game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks. Williams got the Kings started with a power-play goal at 4:30 of the first period. Los Angeles won 6-2.
Don't forget Game 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks, when Williams scored the game-tying goal in the first period then made the play behind the net to set-up Alec Martinez for the overtime winner in a 5-4 game.
Williams won Game 1 of the Cup Final in overtime, 3-2, by beating Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqivst on the stick side.
In Game 3, he drew defenders toward him and made the pass to set up Jeff Carter for the first goal in a 3-0 victory. It came with 0.8 seconds remaining in the first period, and it was a dagger the Rangers couldn't pull out of their backs.
He scored the first goal in Game 5.
"He doesn't get enough credit for what he does," Doughty said of Williams.
He should now. He deserves it.
Williams is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, with a Conn Smythe Trophy. That's legendary.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer