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Justin Williams:'I want another ring on my finger'

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Justin Williams:'I want another ring on my finger'

When Justin Williams was 4 years old and skating on the 20 feet by 20 feet frozen pond in the front yard of his family’s home in Cobourg, Ontario, he never dreamed of someday scoring his 600th point against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 8, 2015.

When he was a Pee Wee player and begged Quebec Nordiques defenseman Adam Foote for his stick – one he still owns today – he never dreamed that someday pint-sized hockey fans would beg him for his.

When he was cut from three different teams before he turned 16 and was finally taken by the Plymouth Whalers in the sixth round of the OHL draft, he never dreamed that two years later he’d be taken by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round (28th overall) of the 2000 NHL draft.

And when he scored his first NHL goal on his second NHL shift, firing his own rebound past Vancouver Canucks goaltender Felix Potvin on Oct. 5, 2000, he never thought he’d be standing in front of reporters more than 15 years later discussing his 600th NHL point.

“Things started small for me,” Williams, 34, said on Monday, one day before pitchforking Evgeny Kuznetsov’s centering pass under Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard for his milestone point Tuesday night at Verizon Center.

“My first goal was to get drafted. The next goal was to make the NHL. The next goal was to score 10 goals in a year, then 20.”

Williams netted 12 goals in that rookie season in Philadelphia, and 17 in his next. But a series of injuries limited him to eight goals in 41 games in 2002-03 and six goals in his first 47 games in 2003-04. That’s when the Flyers, in desperate need of defensive help, traded Williams to the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Danny Markov.

RELATED Ovechkin takes over in third period to fuel Caps to the win

It will go down as one of the most lopsided trades in Flyers history. Markov turned out to be a midseason rental, playing just 34 games for Philadelphia before heading to Russia during the NHL lockout.

Williams’ career blossomed in Carolina, where he topped 30 goals in back-to-back seasons (2005-07) and won his first Stanley Cup in 2006.

Injuries to his knee and wrist limited Williams to 12 goals in 69 games over his next two seasons in Carolina and on March 9, 2009 he was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings for Patrick O’Sullivan and a second-round draft pick. Again, Williams made the trade look lopsided.

While O’Sullivan’s NHL career fizzled after the deal, Williams again was rejuvenated. He netted consecutive 22-goal seasons with the Kings and won his second Stanley Cup in 2012. Two years later he led all NHL players in playoff scoring, winning a third Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and the nickname of Mr. Game 7, with seven goals and seven assists in 14 career Game 7s.

 “That’s how I’ve been able to stick around so long,” Williams said. “I’ve set different goals for myself throughout my career and once I reach a goal, I try to set the bar a little higher. I hit 500 (points) and I try for 600.”

Despite missing just one game in his last four seasons with the Kings, Williams saw the writing on the wall after Los Angeles missed the playoffs last spring and set his sights on the free agent market, where the Caps signed him to a two-year, $6.5 million contract last summer.

So far he’s been worth the investment. In his first 26 games with the Caps, Williams has eight goals and 10 assists, putting him on pace for 25 goals and 57 points. Capitals coach Barry Trotz said there is far more to Williams than his offensive numbers.

“He brings a lot of accountability,” Trotz said. “He grabs his teammates and says, ‘Let’s get this thing going.’ He knows the moments when a team is dragging or needs to put the hammer down. He’s excellent at that.

“I think he’s skating as well as I’ve ever seen him skate. I knew he was a player that had some deception in his game but I didn’t realize he’s like a jitterbug. He’s always moving and I really appreciate his total game and what he’s doing, not only with his linemates but with his team.”

Whether it was fate or simply a stroke of luck, Williams’ 600th point on Tuesday night came with his 60-year-old father, Craig, watching from a suite with about 20 other player dads. It was 30 years ago that Craig Williams first started skating with Justin and his sister on their front yard pond.

“Your parents are your role models, right?” Williams said. “A lot of things he does are the way I do things. Some people have different levels of how they enjoyed their childhood and mine was great. I had a great father figure to look up to as a role model, as a husband and father and man.

“He taught me that anything worth fighting for is going to be hard and it takes perseverance.”

If Williams plays the remaining 56 games on the Capitals’ schedule, he will hit the 1,000-game milestone on the Caps’ final regular season game on April 9 in St. Louis. If that is next on his list of career goals, it’s certainly not alone.

“Maybe I’ll get to 700 (points) and maybe I won’t,” Williams said. “We’ll see how it goes. That’s not really the bench mark I’m looking for at this point. I want another ring on my finger and that’s what drives me now.”

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The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The last three games have been pretty awesome if you're a Caps fan. For one minute, however, let's consider what it must feel like for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus has seen a 0-2 series lead evaporate, they have lost both of their home games and now they face elimination after three straight losses including two overtime games and in two of those games, the Blue Jackets outplayed the Caps.

Oh, and head coach John Tortorella kinda, sorta guaranteed the Blue Jackets would force a Game 7.

As the series shifts back to Ohio for Game 6 on Monday, do you think the Blue Jackets may be a tad motivated when they take the ice in front of their home fans?

"We’ve got a chance in front of our home crowd to push this thing to seven games and we’re excited about it," Columbus forward Matt Calvert said Sunday. "... Got home last night and I was here a little earlier, got a chance to watch the news and they’re interviewing fans and how they’re pumped up, already saying it’s going to Game 7, so I can’t wait. The atmosphere’s going to be great. I know they’re going to give an all-out effort and so are we.”

In the third period of Game 5, the enormity of their situation began to set in for Columbus. Down 3-2 and facing their third straight loss, the Blue Jackets made a tremendous push to try to win the game. They tied the score at 3 early in the period and ultimately outshot Washington 16-1. If not for the tremendous effort of Braden Holtby in net to force overtime, the roles of this series could easily be reversed with Washington facing elimination in Game 6.

Now imagine that effort, plus the home crowd plus the desperation of a team facing elimination. An early lead for the Jackets could start a snowball effect in which their momentum and the crowd carry them through the rest of the game. But the longer the Caps can survive, the more doubt will begin to creep into Columbus, the antsier the fans will become and the more confident Washington will play.

The Caps better be ready.

The good news for Washington is that its been here before. Just last season, the Caps went to Toronto in Game 6 with an opportunity to close out the Maple Leafs. Toronto outshot Washington 14-10 in the first period, but they could not get the early goal and the game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Auston Matthews scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie, but Marcus Johansson scored five minutes later and then again in overtime to close out the series.

After experiencing last year's series in Toronto, the Caps know what they are going to be up against in Columbus.

"It's the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate," head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a conference call with the media. "Their backs are against the wall. They're there. They're going to give their absolute max effort tomorrow, and we've got to make sure that we have a max effort. If we do that, then we have a chance to win in Columbus."

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

There are only two series left in the first round that have yet to be decided. The Caps just so happen to be playing in one of those series.

After falling into a 0-2 hole to start, Washington has rattled off three straight wins and now sits just one away from putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets and advancing to the second round.

Should the Capitals advance, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

The Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in Game 6. Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the effort proving once and for all that yes, goaltending is important in the playoffs. Head coach Mike Sullivan has still yet to lose a playoff series as the head coach of Pittsburgh as he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons.

In the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner of the Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs series after dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. After a strong regular season, the Maple Leafs looked poised to take the next step, but Auston Matthews has only two points in five games and Toronto faces elimination at the hands of the Bruins Monday in Game 5.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>

All four series in the West, meanwhile, have already been decided. Both the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks managed four-game sweeps in the first round and will face one another in the second  The miraculous season of the Golden Knights continues and it would be hard to argue at this point that they are not legitimate Stanly Cup contenders considering all they have accomplished in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Wins by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets now sets up a second-round battle between the top two teams in the league from the regular season.

<<NHL POWER RANKINGS: STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS>>