The signing of three-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams to a two-year, $6.25 million contract in free agency (a deal many considered to be a steal, considering the then- 33-year old’s pedigree) was a blessing for the Capitals.
After 69 games, Williams has settled in nicely on the best hockey team Washington has ever possessed. With 21 goals, 27 assists, and 48 points, Williams is on pace for his first 20-plus goal season in four seasons and first 50-plus point season in four seasons (currently on pace for 25 goals, 32 assists, 57 points). Williams’ experience and work ethic has rubbed off on youngsters such as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky and his influence in the locker room has been appreciated by the coaching staff. But the addition of Williams’ former teammate in Los Angeles, Mike Richards, in January has given the Caps TWO players with impressive playoff resumes.
While Richards hasn’t been a major factor offensively for the Caps, his phenomenal two-way play and outstanding penalty killing have been a big reason why the Capitals are one of the top defensive teams in the NHL.
While many fans know that Williams has been quite successful in the postseason (3 Stanley Cups: one with Carolina and two in Los Angeles, A Conn Smythe Trophy, 7-0 record in Game 7’s, and 78 points – 30 goals, 48 assists – in 105 career playoff games), Richards has been quite successful himself. He won two Cups with Williams in Los Angeles and went to a third Final in 2010 while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. He too is undefeated in Game 7’s, with an identical 7-0 record. In 124 career playoff games, Richards has registered 26 goals and 61 assists for 87 points; 37 of them with L.A. Between the two, they have won five Stanley Cups, one Conn Smythe, and 165 points (56 goals, 109 assists) in 229 games. In contrast, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have no Cups, no Conn Smythes, no Finals appearances, and 121 points (54 goals, 67 assists) in 143 career playoffs.
The experience of both Williams and Richards will be vitally important to the Caps’ run at winning the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup. Both have won the prized chalice before and know the level of intensity and determination it will take to win games and ultimately, the Cup itself. Secondly, they both are respected veterans that are leaders in their own ways: Richards’ work ethic and on-ice play are traits that make him a well-liked leader, while Williams’ no-nonsense, straightforwardly honest attitude makes him an ideal role model for the rest of the team.
While winning the Stanley Cup is a team effort, Richards and Williams will be two key players going forward. Williams, in particular, has the nickname Mr. Game 7; talk about pressure. Nevertheless, the Caps have a legitimate shot at going all the way, and they’ll need the experience and playoff-savvy of Richards and Williams along the way.
By Michael Fleetwood