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Williams brings big game brilliance to Capitals

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Williams brings big game brilliance to Capitals

Shortly after the Los Angeles Kings’ disappointing finish to the 2014-15 regular season, right wing Justin Williams said that if he couldn’t finish his career in Los Angeles he wanted to go to a team that could give him a chance to win a fourth Stanley Cup.

“I’m going to try to restart my career somewhere else, turn the page and try to win as many hockey games as I can,” Williams said.  “I’m at a point in my career where it’s not all about money, it’s about winning for me.”

Today, Williams woke up a member of the Capitals, signing a two-year, $6.5 million contract late Wednesday night that fits perfectly into the Capitals’ budget.

Williams, who won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and two more with the Kings in 2012 and 2014, will carry a cap hit of $3.25 million and is expected to fill the void at top-line right wing alongside center Nicklas Backstrom and left wing Alex Ovechkin.

Known in L.A. as Mr. Game 7, Williams, 33, recorded 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points in 81 games last season, but he’s carved his reputation in the playoffs, where he has earned an NHL record 14 points [7 goals, 7 assists] in seven career Game 7s, winning all of them. In fact, Williams has won three more Game 7s than the Capitals have won in their 40 years.

To put that into further perspective, Williams’ seven goals in Game 7s are three more than Alex Ovechkin, five more than Brooks Laich and six more than Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Williams is a gritty, two-way player who should be a perfect complement to Backstrom and Ovechkin and will provide the Caps with the veteran leadership needed with Wednesday’s departure of Mike Green.

With Williams’ signing the Caps still have roughly $14 million to sign restricted free agents Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Kuznetsov, while also providing a salary cushion if the Caps are interested in adding another forward or defenseman through a trade or free agency.

MORE CAPITALS: Capitals sign three-time Stanley Cup champion

 

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The Caps showed flashes of their mentality with shorthanded win in Colorado

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The Caps showed flashes of their mentality with shorthanded win in Colorado

On November 16, 2017, the Washington Capitals were handed a brutal 6-2 loss in Denver at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. It was the second blowout loss the team had suffered in as many games and dropped the Caps’ record to 10-9-1. That moment would be the low point of the season.

A year to the day, the Caps returned to Denver. They were given every reason to quit Friday and repeat last year’s disastrous result and yet, the Caps rallied for a 3-2 overtime win to improve their record to 9-7-3.

Coming off a loss Wednesday in Winnipeg, Washington found out earlier on Friday that the team would be without both T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov who had both suffered injuries against the Jets. In net, Braden Holtby was out as well meaning the Caps would have to turn to backup goalie Pheonix Copley for his third start in as many games. Backing him up would be Ilya Samsonov, a highly touted prospect but a player without a single minute of NHL experience.

And, just in case that all did not seem daunting enough, the Caps also spotted the Avalanche a 1-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game.

One year ago, the Caps gave up the first goal of that game just 17 seconds in. When Colorado scored early again, it felt like Friday’s game was going to end up being just like that blowout loss from a year ago.

But it didn’t.

“We were shorthanded, everyone stepped up,” Tom Wilson said. “We talked about guys stepping up before the game and we got it done.”

The Capitals battled back and took control of the game in the first and second periods, tallying two goals to take a 2-1 lead. A late goal by Colorado would tie the game, but Todd Reirden reminded his players of what happened in Montreal – a game in which the Caps gave up three goals in the final four minutes of the game to lose 6-4 – and challenged them not to let that happen again. The team responded.

With all the momentum on the side of the Avalanche, Devante Smith-Pelly drew a holding penalty with less than two minutes remaining and Nicklas Backstrom would score on the resulting power play in overtime.

“When you have a lot of guys hurt, it was nice to see that we really got together, played a good defensive game, everyone was on the same page and blocking shots and doing all the little things right,” Backstrom said.

The game was reminiscent of the Game 6 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs last season. With one win separating them from advancing to the conference final, Washington had to somehow find a way to beat their biggest rival in Pittsburgh and they had to do it with no Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky or Tom Wilson. When their backs were against the wall, the Caps responded and managed to defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions 2-1 in overtime.

“It was important for guys to step up in different situations with obviously very key guys out, but we did it in the playoffs,” Smith-Pelly said. “We had key guys out at times. I guess this group is used to guys coming in and out and stepping up.”

The Caps returned most of their Stanley Cup winning roster for the 2018-19 season and fans have been waiting for this year’s team to start playing like last year’s again. A record of 8-7-3 heading into Friday’s game was hardly what people expected from this team early on.

But the win in Colorado was one of the team’s most impressive wins of the season, and perhaps the closest Washington has come since the 7-0 win in the opener to looking like that championship squad. Not because they looked dominant – they didn’t – but because when their backs were against the wall, you saw what this team was really made of mentally. Every time they were challenged in the playoffs – whether it was going down 2-0 to Columbus, playing the unbeatable Penguins, facing elimination against Tampa Bay or facing the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights – the Caps responded.

On Friday, Washington was challenged and again, and the Caps responded.

Last year’s game in Colorado proved to be a turning point. The team was at a cross-roads. They could check out and watch the inevitable coaching and roster shakeup happen, or they could rally to save the season. The Caps made a choice and the rest is history.

Maybe Friday’s game will mean nothing in the greater context of the 82-game season, or maybe this game will again prove to be a turning point. Maybe in the spring we will again circle Nov. 16 and remember it as the game in which the defending champs put the rest of the league on notice that they’re still here, they’re still the champs and they’re not going down without a fight.

“Every time we have injuries, it’s going to happen and it’s going to get other guys to get that opportunity,” Backstrom said. "I thought we played pretty good today, we didn’t give them a whole lot. That was a nice win, we needed that.”

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How Todd Reirden saved the game in Colorado by calling a coach’s challenge he knew he would lose

How Todd Reirden saved the game in Colorado by calling a coach’s challenge he knew he would lose

With the Caps clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche Friday, disaster struck as Colorado forward Colin Wilson hit a puck out of midair past goalie Pheonix Copley to tie the game.

But Todd Reirden was going to make sure this game did not spiral out of control.

Reirden made what at the time seemed like a curious decision to challenge the goal for goalie interference. Avalanche forward Matt Calvert was right in Copley’s face, but there was, at best, minimal contact and certainly nothing that would suggest it hindered Copley’s ability to make a save. Sure, you never know what the refs will find when you watch in slow motion, but the challenge had almost no shot.

It was a curious call and a curious reaction when the call stood as a good goal. Reirden seemed legitimately angry, more so than you usually see from him.

But it was all calculated.

“Just thought there was some contact there, but to be 100-percent truthful on that, our team needed a timeout at that point so I had to make sure I was selling it properly,” Reirden said after the game.

Reirden knew the challenge was not going to be successful, but he wanted the opportunity to give the team an important reminder after they gave up the game-tying goal.

“It was a situation where a few weeks ago we had the lead and let it go against Montreal and it was something that we discussed with our team. I thought it was worth a try – I didn’t think it was very high percentage it was going to be reversed – and it gave me an opportunity to talk to our players about the fact that we’ve been in this situation before. Have we learned and are we going grow from that? Sure enough, we did and we end up stringing together a couple decent shifts of no panic and doing the right thing and we draw the penalty and are able to convert on the power play.”

On Nov. 1, the Caps held a 4-3 lead over the Montreal Canadiens with less than five minutes remaining in the game. The game spiraled out of control, however, when Jesperi Kotkaniemi scored a game-tying goal. Washington allowed three goals in the final 3:04 of the game to turn a road win into a two-goal loss.

Reirden was determined that was not going to happen again on Friday so he challenged a goal and reminded his team of what happened in Montreal during the review. The Caps responded by drawing a late penalty and winning 3-2 in overtime in a game in which they were without Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby.

“That’s important for me, early in the season, to have those growth moments as a team,” Reirden said. “That was actually what was going on behind the scenes there so that set us up for success.”|

But wait, why not just call a time out?

Because the Caps had nothing to lose. You still get the timeout and a chance, no matter how miniscule, of taking a goal off the board. And if you lose the challenge, all you lose is the timeout you would have used anyway.

Worth a shot, right? 

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