Even before Justin Williams became a teammate, the Washington Capitals knew of his reputation, his ability to perform sorcery in the postseason. They’d obviously heard of his nickname, that he was “Mr. Game 7″ for his clutch play in those situations. They got to know the player who always seems to shine in the most tense times, and they started to understand why he has won three Stanley Cups.
But over the past two years, the Capitals have yet to see Williams in action for a Game 7, the do-or-die situation in which he has made his name. He’ll play his first with Washington against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night in this Eastern Conference semifinal.
“It’s going to be exciting to see,” forward T.J. Oshie said. “We all know the level of competitiveness he’s able to bring himself to, almost a competitive calmness that a lot of us aren’t able to find. We’ll look for him, along with a lot of other guys, to have big games to night.”
Williams has repeatedly shied away from his “Mr. Game 7″ moniker, but the numbers are both impressive and eerie in their symmetry. He is 7-0 in Game 7s with seven goals and seven assists. (He also wears No. 14, which is seven multiplied by two and also the number of points he has in his seven Game 7s.) So, as Capitals fans are agonizing about one of the most important games in franchise history, let’s check in with Williams, who’s mighty comfortable in this situation.
“It’s going to be a fight of will,” Williams said. “And I can tell you one thing: I’m going to give everything I have tonight and make sure I don’t let my teammates down and everyone in this room is going to do the same, and we’ll be fine. …
“The power of the mind is a very strong thing, and going out there with apprehension and fear is no good for anybody. We’re going to go out and we’re going to have an impact and dictate. If we do that, I like our chances.”
The Capitals got a taste of Williams’s playoff magic in the first-round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, when he scored two goals in Game 1 and then had the overtime winner in Game 5, finishing with six points in six games. He’s had a quieter second-round series with just three points in these six games against the Penguins and no goals.
“I don’t have any doubts what Justin is going to bring,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s going to bring his all, and his all is pretty good.”
Washington hasn’t played in a Game 7 since the 2015 postseason, when the Capitals beat the New York Islanders, 2-1, in the first round. They then lost to the New York Rangers in overtime of a Game 7 the next round. Though the result wasn’t what the Capitals wanted in that loss to the Rangers, Trotz was actually pleased with how his team played, something that’s given him confidence going into Wednesday night’s game. Washington is 4-10 all-time in Game 7s, including a 3-7 mark at home.
“We played very, very well in that Game 7, so I don’t know if there’s any hump to get over in that,” Trotz said. “I just think with this group that I’ve been with, our Game 7s have been pretty solid. You’re not going to win every one. But I thought our game was really, really quite good in both those Game 7s.”
Of the Capitals players expected to be in the lineup, just three — Nate Schmidt, Dmitry Orlov and Oshie — have never played in a Game 7. “You grow up hearing about it,” Oshie said. “You dream about scoring the game-winning goal in overtime in Game 7. That’s what, as a hockey player, you grow up hearing about, so I’m excited for the challenge. It’s going to be fun to go out there and play in my first Game 7 and hopefully be able to contribute and bring my game.”
When the Capitals fell into a three-games-to-one series hole, several players said the desperation almost helped them play better because there was a freedom in having nothing to lose anymore. Now that Washington has stormed back to tie the series, the challenge is to maintain that feeling for one last, decisive game.
“Being relaxed is something that’s obviously not going to happen,” Williams said. “You’re going to be excited. You’re going to be nervous. The main thing is to use those butterflies as a positive and not being something that shies you away from success.”
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