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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mr. Game 7 rewarded

Playoffs MVP Williams cries tears of joy for family and team

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Dave Sandford / the associated press
Kings centre Anze Kopitar gets a champagne shower in the locker-room after the Kings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 in overtime to win the Stanley Cup.

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Dave Sandford / the associated press Kings centre Anze Kopitar gets a champagne shower in the locker-room after the Kings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 in overtime to win the Stanley Cup.

LOS ANGELES -- Hockey players, they're such tough guys.

Then one night one of them scores the first goal in the biggest game of the season, then later that night his team wins the biggest trophy in the sport and he is named the best player in the playoffs.

That's not why Justin Williams, a 32-year-old Canadian hockey player, a tough guy, was crying on the ice Friday night while holding his toddler daughter, Jade, in his arms.

He was crying for Jade and for the rest of his family and his friends and, of course, his teammates.

"You win it for your teammates," Williams said after he and the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 in double overtime to win the win the Stanley Cup Final, the second time in three years Williams and the Kings have finished the NHL season on top.

"You win it for everyone involved. Then you see your family and your friends and all the people that have cheered for you your whole life. To celebrate with them makes it awesome."

It was clearly an awesome night for Williams. He came into the game, with the Kings in command of the series three games to one, as one of five or six legitimate candidates to win the Conn Smythe Trophy, for playoffs MVP.

Out of all of them, he was the least in need of a new moniker.

After all, he had earlier in the playoffs been nicknamed Mr. Game 7 for adding to his impressive career record in Game 7s.

As the Kings won three Game 7s -- all on the road -- to reach the Cup Final, Williams had two goals in three assists in those games. He is now 7-0 with seven goals and an NHL-record 14 points in career Game 7s.

In Game 1 of this series, he scored the game-winning goal in overtime, and people wondered whether they should call him Mr. Game 7, Mr. Game 1 or Mr. Overtime.

Now, add Mr. Conn Smythe.

Williams' first-period goal gave him nine goals and 25 points in the playoffs. Those stats put him in contention for MVP with teammates Anze Kopitar (26 points, to lead the playoffs), Jeff Carter (10 goals, 25 points), Marian Gaborik (14 goals, to lead the playoffs, and 22 points), defenseman Drew Doughty (18 points) and goaltender Jonathan Quick, who wasn't a wizard like he was in the 2012 playoffs, but made most of the saves he needed to.

It was perhaps the clutch nature of Williams' points that put him over the top. Maybe it's becasue when he is on the ice, he and the puck seem to be totally in sync. It's amazing to watch his shifts and see the puck just stick with him.

"Justin Williams is an unbelievable hockey player," said Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, 26, who scored the winning goal on a rebound 14:43 into the second overtime. "He's been around for so long. He's a great leader in the room. He can do a lot of special things with the puck. It seems like he's always got the puck on a string.

"Obviously, he's become known as Mr. Game 7. I think I've called him that a few times, too. I couldn't be happier for him. He's a clutch player. He's a big time player. He makes big plays in big games."

Williams was a part of the Cup-winning Kings in 2012, when the team rampaged through the playoffs. He won with Carolina, in 2006.

This time, it was different, and that was another reason Williams' eyes were watery after taking his turn hoisting the Stanley Cup.

"Our path to the Cup this year was totally different," Williams said.

There were injuries.

There was the 3-0 deficit in the first round of the playoffs to the San Jose Sharks.

Then a 3-2 deficit to the Anaheim Ducks.

Then, in Game 7 in Chicago of the Western Final, a 2-0 first-period deficit.

Each time, the Kings responded, and kept winning.

"We just had what it takes," Williams said. "The confidence in our room right now... There are no words to describe what we're feeling now. Each cup is unique, but God, we earned this one.

"We had a team that simply wasn't going to be denied. It was 'Just win.' We did everything. We earned it.

"I saw a team determined not to go back to New York.

"What we went through to get to this point, to win the Stanley Cup, is pretty emotional and special, and we'll never forget it."

Carter, who could have just as easily won the Smythe, said, "Everybody chipped in, and the kids (forwards Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli) stepped up big."

Centre Jarret Stoll said "seven or eight guys" could have won the Smythe. "It wasn't one or two guys that won this. Everybody meant everything. But Justin made some huge plays in some huge games."

Williams agreed the award could have gone to someone else.

"I can't believe I won that," he said. "That will, I don't think, ever, ever sink in. The guy from Cobourg who played the game he loves and got to be surrounded with a lot of great teammates throughout my years."

Kings president of business operations Luc Robitaille, a former star player, watched Williams with the media after the game, then saw him with his family, and smiled.

"This kid is incredible," he said of Williams. "You talk about big-game players and Joe Montana and all that. You see what he's done in Game 7s over the years. It's amazing. He deserves the MVP. He was absolutely amazing."

He also showed everybody hockey players might not come out of games when they're hurt and they would never be seen crying during a game, but afterward, it's OK to shed a tear or two.

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2014 B5

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