When the Washington Capitals signed Justin Williams in the summer of 2015, it was for moments like this. Down 2-0 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday on Thursday, with all the memories of previous playoff failures flooding the minds of the despondent fans, Williams single-handedly brought the Caps back with two goals to erase the deficit and breathe new life into Washington.
The Caps battled back from a 2-0 deficit to take Game 1 in overtime.
“He’s been there before,” Braden Holtby said of the veteran Williams after the game. “That helps. He’s a competitive guy. He knows when the game’s on the line. He doesn’t get rattled by certain things where some guys do. You don’t find that quality in a lot of guys and that’s a big reason he’s part of our team.”
It took time for the Caps to get their playoff legs underneath them on Thursday, but not Williams. When so many of his teammates looked like they were standing around, Williams scored two goals by keeping his head about him and his legs moving.
On the power play in the first period, a shot attempt from Kevin Shattenkirk ended with a broken stick that sent the puck in an unexpected direction and froze Toronto's penalty killers. But not Williams. He snuck around the defense onto the front door of goalie Frederik Andersen and tipped in a pass from T.J. Oshie to get Washington on the board.
Williams would go on to tie the game at 2 in the second period as he turned an innocent-looking play into a goal just by charging the net.
Andersen saved a shot by Matt Niskanen, but Williams saw the goalie didn’t have full control of the puck and charged. Andersen stood up and the puck fell at his feet for Williams to slide underneath and into the net.
“I saw that he didn't have it,” Williams said. “I saw that he was unaware of where it was. I just went to the net and then, fortunately, it popped there.”
Even with two goals, including the game-tying tally in the second, Williams’ biggest impact may have come off the ice.
“In between periods, Justin just kind of calmed everyone down and said relax, we're not going to win every period,” Holtby said. “That's what leaders do.”
“He's definitely got the room,” Tom Wilson said. “When he talks, you listen. He said some things, he went out there and led the way with his performance.”
What did he say? He just told the team when they were all thinking.
“It's not just me,” Williams said. “Our whole team said enough is enough when it was 2-0.”
Simple words, but the effect was evident.
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