Less than two minutes after referees disallowed Alex Ovechkin’s apparent game-tying goal in the third period Monday, former Capitals forward Justin Williams redirected a shot past Braden Holtby. The veteran’s first goal of the playoffs effectively iced Carolina’s 5-2 win, which forced a deciding Game 7 in D.C. on Wednesday.
As the captain of a franchise making its first postseason appearance in a decade, Williams is one of the few Carolina players with Game 7 experience. NBC Sports noted that at least a dozen Hurricanes will be making their Game 7 debuts at Capital One Arena, compared with only three for Washington.
“It’s valuable to have guys that have been there before,” Hurricanes Coach Rod Brind’Amour said after Game 6. “We don’t have a ton of those, but we do have ‘Mr. Game 7,’ if you will. Everyone’s calling him that.”
“Mr. Game 7,” of course, is Williams, who earned the nickname for his knack for filling up the scoresheet in elimination games throughout his 20-year career. Expect to hear the moniker and Williams’s clutchness referenced multiple times Wednesday.
Williams, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, has played in eight Game 7s, and his teams are 7-1 in those games. (More on that record momentarily.) Williams has scored more points (14) than any other player in Game 7 history, and he’s tied with Glenn Anderson for the most goals (seven). In helping Carolina win its first championship in 2006, Williams scored in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, although the latter goal was an empty-netter. In 2014, he tallied five points in three Game 7s en route to winning his most recent title with the Los Angeles Kings.
Williams, who has three points this series, has bristled at the individual nature of his “Mr. Game 7” nickname for years.
“I haven’t scored that many big goals,” he said after scoring an overtime goal in Game 5 of the Capitals’ first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2017. “I was in the right place at the right time tonight.”
Two weeks after that game, Williams played his first and only Game 7 in two seasons with the Capitals. He was held scoreless, as were his teammates, in a 2-0 home loss to the Penguins. In addition to blemishing Williams’s perfect record, the defeat dropped Washington to 4-11 all-time in Game 7s, including a 3-8 mark at home. The Hurricanes are 4-0 in Game 7s since relocating from Hartford, Conn., to Raleigh in 1997, but again, their last such game was 10 years ago.
The Capitals played one Game 7 en route to winning the Stanley Cup last year, a 4-0 win in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals at Tampa Bay. Ovechkin scored late in the first period to give Washington the lead, Andre Burakovsky scored a couple of second-period goals, and Holtby made 29 saves in the victory.
After Monday’s triumph in Carolina, Williams was characteristically matter-of-fact about playing another elimination game.
“We either win today or we pack our bags for the summer,” he said. “It’s quite simple. . . . You learn about people when it’s win or go home, when it’s us or them. [Monday] it was us, and now it’s them, too. Anything can happen next game, and we’re happy to be playing it.”
Despite the disparity in experience between the teams, Washington’s status as defending champion and the home team’s 6-0 record in this series, Brind’Amour said “there’s pressure on both sides” ahead of Game 7.
“I expect Carolina to play the game loosely,” NBC Sports Network analyst Keith Jones said Monday. “I don’t think they’re going to have any nerves. They are the underdog. They were the underdog going into [Game 6] after getting blown out, and they played their game to perfection."
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