The Capitals would never tell you they signed Justin Williams as a free agent for the sole purpose of beating the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, even though they were eliminated by them in seven games in 2012, 2013 and 2015.
They’d probably tell you his perfect 7-0 career record in Game 7s was a bigger reason, along with his leadership, tenacity and ability to make the right play at precisely the right time.
But after seeing him record his second career hat trick in Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Rangers at Verizon Center, let’s just say it: Mr. Game 7 is also Mr. Ranger-killer.
In four games against the Rangers this season – the last three of them victories – Williams has six goals and three assists, bringing his career totals to 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points in 31 games against the Rangers.
“Things have just kind of worked out that way,” Williams said. “I love playing at MSG. I think it’s one of the best arenas in the league and I always get jacked up when I play there.
“We’re a very proud team and we’re not used to losing and we don’t like it. We’re playing a rival. You throw a stinker in there (a 4-1 loss in Buffalo Saturday night) and you want to redeem yourself and luckily for us we were able to do it the next night.”
The Caps’ win over the Rangers extended their home winning streak to 12 games (18-3-1 overall at Verizon Center) and extended their lead over the Rangers to 18 points in the Metro Division standings.
More importantly, it erased the bitter taste of Saturday night’s 4-1 loss in Buffalo and improved their record following losses to 10-0-1.
“We were engaged; we were heavier,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We weren’t playing shinny. We were playing for keeps.”
Trotz said a lot of that will to win comes from Williams, who has the distinction of having a better points per game average in the playoffs (0.68) than he does in the regular season (0.63).
“He is a gamer,” Trotz said. “I mean, I get it. It’s hard to explain to everybody else, but he engages a team on the bench, in the dressing room. As a coach, it brings a smile to your face because he gets people involved and makes them think hockey and think in the moment when they don’t even realize it.
“I see why he’s won everywhere he’s gone and I’m seeing that in Mike Richards, too. Those are huge elements and other guys notice it, too. They’re leading by example.”
Maybe that’s why Caps defenseman Taylor Chorney said he was willing to give up what would have been his first NHL goal in nearly five years to Williams, who got his stick on Chorney’s point shot for his first goal of the night.
“For sure,” Chorney said. “Especially for a guy like ‘Stick.’”
So how did Williams get the nickname “Stick?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “We came up with something because there’s already a Willy (Tom Wilson) here and I didn’t want to take it. It’s slowly become ‘Stick’ and it’s slowly sticking, no pun intended.”
Actually, Williams acknowledged he was first given the nickname of “Stick” in Los Angeles because the Kings’ Willie Mitchell had a real first name for his nickname. (Some expert Twitter work from Kings reporters Lisa Dillman and Rich Hammond confirmed Dustin Brown gave Williams the nickname “Stick.”)
Whether you call him “Stick,” “Willy,” “Mr. Game 7” or “Mr. Range-killer,” Williams credited linemates Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov, each with two assists, for his big night.
“It’s pretty easy with linemates like that,” he said. “Sometimes you just go to the net with your stick on the ice and somehow they find you.”
Or your stick.