If there is one advantage the Los Angeles Kings have over the remaining teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, it is their ability to come up clutch in “do or die” situation. This year, Los Angeles is 6-0 when facing elimination and 7-1 over the past two years. After two seven-game series against their interstate rivals, the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, the team has shown they have ice in their veins in high pressure situations. One player, in particular, has made his mark in these situations throughout his career. Forward Justin Williams, nicknamed “Mr. Game Seven”, has 12 points in the six Game Sevens he has been a part of, earning a perfect 6-0 record in those games.
Williams has been a big part of the Kings’ Cup run this year. After falling behind 3-0 in the first round series against the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles rallied to force Game Seven. The Sharks seemed shellshocked to blow such a series lead and barely put up a fight in Game Seven, eventually ending their playoff run with a 5-1 loss. Justin Williams assisted on the eventual game-winner. In the next round against the Anaheim Ducks, the Kings again rallied, this time from a 3-2 series deficit. Once again, Game Seven ended in a blowout in favor of Los Angeles, 6-2. Williams opened the scoring in that game and added an assist on the team’s sixth goal.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the 6-0 record in Game 7 and the fact that we’re moving on. At the end of my career, I’ll look at that and be proud of it. But the one I really like right now is the 6-0,” said Williams after the game.
The forward’s performance in big games did not start in Los Angeles. He was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft and would receive his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs the following year. He made his first appearance in a Game Seven in 2003, where the Flyers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. Williams had a goal and two assists in that Game Seven. After struggling with injuries and a carousel of coaching changes, Williams was eventually traded from the Flyers to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Williams won his first Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006. That Cup run saw the Hurricanes go through two Game Sevens and Williams would again be a factor in both. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Hurricanes defeated the Buffalo Sabres in Game Seven, 4-2. Williams again tallied a goal and two assists. In the Stanley Cup Finals, Carolina won Game Seven 3-1 against the Edmonton Oilers. Williams scored the empty net goal that sealed the victory for the Hurricanes.
While the Kings’ roster has shown the ability to win the important games in the seven game series, they won their most recent Stanley Cup by never coming close to a Game Seven. In 2012, Los Angeles won the Cup with the majority of their series ending in four or five games. The extra rest gained between series by ending them quickly is invaluable over a long playoff run. Because of this, the Kings will face an uphill battle against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals this year. It is rare that a team wins two seven-game series in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but those that have in the past often look exhausted in the following rounds.
While Justin Williams can help the Kings win any series that reaches Game Seven, the toll of long series after long series adds up to mental and physical exhaustion for the players. Los Angeles is 7-1 in elimination games over the past two years, but that one loss came at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks last year. It is in the Kings’ best interest to end this Western Conference series early, if at all possible, and not rely on “Mr. Game Seven.”
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner