The race for the Conn Smythe Trophy is on.
Everybody knows what you do in the first three rounds puts you in contention for the trophy, but it is your performance in the Stanley Cup final that determines your ultimate fate.
In that regard, Los Angeles Kings right-winger Justin Williams just may have taken the early lead for the playoff MVP award. At the very least, the 32-year-old, two-time Stanley Cup champion drew closer to a pack of leading contenders that includes teammates Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik when he scored the overtime winner in Game 1
Williams, who routinely saves his best hockey for the post-season, also had an assist to mark the sixth time in this year's playoffs he has registered a multipoint game. Williams now has eight goals and 20 points in 22 games.
"He's a really good player," said Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter in what might be the understatement of the year. "He's our best right-winger every night consistently."
History shows the Conn Smythe is usually awarded to a front-line forward, top-two defender of starting goalie, but there have been times when a role player has stolen the spotlight. Claude Lemieux
of the New Jersey Devils won it in 1995; Butch Goring of the New York Islanders captured it in 1981 and defensive specialist Bob Gainey of the Montreal Canadiens took it home in 1979.
"I've said it many times, Justin is the most underrated player on this team by a mile," said Kings defenceman Doughty. "He doesn't get enough credit for what he does."
Williams is making the most of his average 21.7 shifts and 16:04 ice time per game. He took advantage of an uncharacteristic Dan Girardi giveaway in overtime to decide a game that his Kings started slowly in and even trailed by two goals at one point.
Williams found himself alone in the slot with the puck and snapped a high shot past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist on his stick side.
"We'd had a three-on-two break and it got snuffed out," Williams said. "I think Girardi was falling and we were able to turn it over. [Mike] Richards was able to get me the puck and I had a little bit of time and I shot one over his shoulder."
Comebacks all the rage
The Kings' comeback from a two-goal deficit in Game 1 of the final marked the 14th time in this year's playoffs a team has won after trailing by two goals. It was the fourth time the Kings have done it. The last time a team did that was 1987 when the Philadelphia Flyers did it five times.
The Kings looked decidedly sluggish early in the game after their emotional seven-game win in the Western Conference final against Chicago, but were delighted to get the victory.
"We have a lot of things to clean up and a lot of things to correct, but we're happy with the result," Williams said.
Odds favour Kings
The team that won the opening game of the Stanley Cup final has won the championship in 57 of 74 seasons.
Paging Anze Kopitar
The Kings No. 1 centre continues to lead the playoffs in scoring with 24 points in 22 games, but when it comes to goal-scoring, he has all but disappeared. After being held pointless in Game 1 against the Rangers, Kopitar has now gone eight games without scoring a goal and has just one goal in his last 15 games.
Kopitar had four goals and 15 points in his first 10 games in the playoffs, but in the next 12 has just a goal and nine points.
Prior to the game, Wayne Gretzky proclaimed
Kopitar is the third best player in the NHL behind only Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Great One might get an argument from fans of Steven Stamkos and the Tampa Bay Lightning, not to mention fans of Doughty.
Coach's dry wit
It was pointed out to Kings coach Darryl Sutter that his team limited the Rangers to just three shots on goal in the third period.
"Is that a question?" Sutter wondered. "I know they only had three shots. I agree with you."
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