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Justin Williams impeccable Game 7 numbers — especially 6-0 — a daunting challenge for Blackhawks tonight
If the ’90s Bulls were in this situation, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen would be arm-wrestling to see who got to cover Justin Williams.
Containing Williams in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs might be the ultimate challenge for the Blackhawks on Sunday night at the United Center — exceeded only by stopping Williams’ team. Williams is 6-0 in Game 7s in his NHL career, with six goals and six assists. Already this season, Williams had an assist on the tie-breaking goal in Game 7 against San Jose in the first round and the first goal of the game against Anaheim in the second round. The Kings beat the Sharks 5-1 and the Ducks 6-2 to advance.
“You treat Game 7s — I think most guys do on our team — as an opportunity to do something special,” Williams said, “an opportunity to improve yourself, an opportunity to advance and get the better of a team that you’ve battled with for six games.
“It’s going to be no different [in Game 7 vs. the Hawks]. We have a huge bone to pick with them and we’ll leave it all out there, because there’s no more after this.”
Williams has 21 goals and 57 points in 103 other playoff games in his career, so it’s not like he’s totally dormant prior to Game 7s. He has a goal and five points and is a plus-2 in the first six games of this series.
But his Game 7 record is so stark, there is great anticipation of what he might do against the Hawks.
“He’s just a big-game player,” teammate Willie Mitchell said. “I think good players that have success in these situations are quite comfortable in it. He’s one of those players and we’re lucky to have him.”
Williams, 32, a 13-year NHL veteran, said he is humbled the attention his Game 7 performances have brought him.
“As I’ve reiterated quite a few times, I’m proud of my individual stats, but the one I’m most proud of is the 6-0 i Game 7s,” he said, “and I’m going to do everything in my power — and I know everyone else on the team is — to make it 7.
“We’ve had a lot of guys with success in Game 7s, not just me It’s very humbling that everyone seems to want an interview on a Game 7. But at the end of the day I just feel that if I didn’t get the points, someone else on our team would and we would’ve won those games regardless.”
As Williams noted, the Kings as a team have an imposing record in Game 7s. They’re 3-0 under Darryl Sutter — they also beat the Sharks in seven games in the conference semifinals last season. Marian Gaborik and Mike Richards also are 6-0 in Game 7s in their NHL career. Jeff Carter is 4-0.
It’s a daunting challenge for the Hawks, but one they’re accustomed to dealing with. Last year the Kings had won 15 consecutive home games before the Hawks won 3-2 in Game 4 at Staples Center to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
Prior to Game 5, Jonathan Quick had a 1.66 goals-against average in games in which his team could clinch — the second-best of all time behind the great Jacques Plante, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But in two elimination games against the Hawks, Quick’s goals-against average is 3.84 and his save percentage a very pedestrian .871 after allowing five goals in Game 5 and four in Game 4.
Then again, the Hawks were 7-0 at home in the playoffs heading into Game 2, and the Kings swamped them 6-2. No trend is safe with two tested-tough, championship teams battling for a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
“I think Game 7s [are] what hockey’s all about as a player,” Mitchell said. “That’s what you want to play in is a Game 7 with everything on the line. It’s kind of the essence of the game.
“We’ve had some success in that and we look to continue that and we feel if we do the things we’re capable of doing, and the style of play that we need to get against the Blackhawks, we’re going to get the result we want.”