His dressing-room nickname with teammates was “Stick.” The rest of the world called him “Mr. Game 7.”
You can probably guess which nickname that team-first Justin Williams didn’t especially enjoy hearing.
Still, with five Game 7s on the NHL schedule this weekend – including the Kings at Edmonton on Saturday night – who better to talk about the specialness of the game than Williams, the three-time Stanley Cup champion? Williams, who retired in 2020, had a personal 8-1 record in Game 7s and is the all-time Game 7 leader in points (15) and is tied with Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson with a record seven Game 7 goals.
“I know I miss it right now – absolutely,” Williams said. “Watching playoff games is pretty tough. It can come and go, right?”
Williams is a special advisor to Carolina Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell, and the Hurricanes face the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on Saturday. Williams won his first Stanley Cup championship in 2006 with Carolina and two more with Kings in 2012 and 2014. When our conversation turned to Game 7s, Williams laughed. (Williams has that distinctive laugh that is hard to describe but it takes you back to being in the room interviewing him after a game.)
“It’s really just another game. It really is,” Williams said. “You have to want to be the guy and believe you can be the guy to make the difference and to be the one that wins the game for the team,” Williams said on Friday night. “Or to have the biggest impact. You can’t wait for anybody else to do it.
“That’s a lot of the advice I give — don’t wait for anybody else.
“Brownie (Dustin Brown) and Kopi (Anze Kopitar) and Quickie (Jonathan Quick) — a lot of guys have won a lot of Game 7s on that team, so I’m sure they’ll pass that along. You play the game and see what happens. They’re coin flips, they really are. They’re Game 7s.
“There are three of them (Saturday) and they’re all coin flips – no one has an advantage. It’s just who is going to score more goals that particular day and little things are going to make the difference, and I’m sure everybody is going to be trying to do them.”
Williams didn’t have one standard mode of operation before a Game 7.
“It depended on the situation,” said Williams, who was the playoff MVP in 2014. “For the most part, I tried to be as loose as I could. Especially before the game. Just tried to get a couple of guys to crack smiles and realize you have to enjoy it. You have to have fun with it because you don’t get opportunities to do Game 7s all the time.
“You enjoy it. You smile. You’re there. You’re happy you are in the lineup. That you can play this game for a living and have an opportunity to play one of those games.”
Three of his Kings teammates during the championship era – Kopitar, Brown and Quick – will be playing in Game 7 in Edmonton. Defenseman Drew Doughty is out until next season because of wrist surgery.
Williams stressed the importance of their continued presence in Los Angeles and their impact on the younger teammates.
“They’ve been able to go through rebuilds, good times, bad times and have seen a lot of faces and a lot of turnarounds,” he said. “It’s really what you have to have. You need to have constants. You need to have guys who lead the way. You need to have guys that teach the younger guys the right road to go on.
“If you look at teams that are successful, you’ll see a lineage of good leaders. It’s not that fact that they are the luckiest team in the world.
“It’s the teams that have taught the younger players how to do it. I’m hoping for L.A.’s sake that the younger players there have taken that and are able to understand and ask questions to those types of players, because they don’t come around very often.”
Part of our conversation was about the longer-term importance to the younger players who are going through a grueling playoff series against generational talents Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers.
“Living on the East Coast, you get a sense of the lack of respect for the unknown that the Kings are,” Williams said. “Nobody knows really who they are. Nobody watches them play very often and therefore don’t really know what to expect.”
Williams laughed, and said: “How many points did they have? Almost 100?”
“Almost 100 points this year. It’s no fluke (to do that) in the NHL. You can get (almost) 100 points and all of a sudden people were saying Edmonton is going to steamroll them. You’re seeing the players now and certainly the young ones who are making their names known. ‘We’re not intimidated. We’re aware of the lack of respect that we’ve gotten throughout this series.’
“It’s sometimes even better – the fact that you can all work toward one goal and the fact that nobody believes in us but ourselves.
“This is just from an outsider who doesn’t watch the team regularly. But I’ve seen the team here in the playoffs and they certainly don’t look out of place, don’t look overwhelmed, don’t look overmatched and that’s why it is going to seven games.”
(Photo of Justin Williams: Juan Ocampo / NHLI via Getty Images)