When the Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes tied the game at 2 in the third period of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Justin Williams broke the tie by scoring a goal that was set up by Sebastian Aho, giving the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead with 9:45 remaining in the game. The Hurricanes scored two empty-net goals to complete a 5-2 victory in that game.
Williams is known for his Game 7 heroics in his illustrious 20-year career, so it figures it would be him that would score the game-winning goal in that spot. His goal ended the Islanders season for all intents and purposes in that game, not Game 4 when the Hurricanes swept the Islanders to advance to the Eastern Conference final after a 5-2 victory on Friday night at PNC Arena.
Williams played a role in the Hurricanes scoring three goals in the second period of Game 4 by scoring the last goal of that period.
Here’s the moral of the story when it comes to Mr. Game 7: The Islanders could use a guy like Williams to show Anthony Beauvillier and Mat Barzal how it’s done in the playoffs. They must find a player like him that takes the moment and runs with it. They need a guy who lets it rip rather than overthinking.
It’s something Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello will address this offseason. He knows a thing or two about building a Stanley Cup hockey team by winning three Stanley Cups as the architect of the Devils back in their heyday. He understands the Islanders need to find their Justin Williams.
The Islanders will look into free agency to see what guy fits that criteria. Players such as Mats Zuccarello, Wayne Simmonds, Brian Boyle, Brett Connolly and Joe Pavelski make sense.
Want to know who else really makes sense? Williams. Yes, that same guy who scored couple of goals against the Islanders in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He set up Brock McGinn’s goal that had the Hurricanes beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in double OT in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He scored seven goals and earned 14 points in winner-take-all situations. He only lost once in Game 7 in his career.
One thing about Lamoriello. He admires guys who beat his teams whether it’s coaches or players. Williams could be the apple of Lamoriello’s eye, and he should be. It takes skill to do so well in the playoffs. It can’t be taught.
Yes, Williams is 37 years old. No matter. So many hockey players do well in their 40s. This should encourage the Islanders to get him.
Williams should be a priority for this Islanders team when it comes to making moves this offseason.
The Islanders could use other guys, too. This is a team that is in need of guys who are good playoff performers. They relied on young guys out of necessity since they didn’t have a guy who can get it done in the semifinals. Jordan Eberle played great against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he was awful against the Hurricanes.
Those veteran players with playoff experience could be so valuable in the power play, which was the Islanders’ weakness this season. Williams would be the tonic that cures the Islanders’ power-play struggles.
The Islanders can’t go next season with the same roster. They maxed out everything they could with a group that relied on grit to win games. They must spend money to make it better.
Whether or not players are interested to play for the Islanders is another story. While the Islanders improved, those guys still want to play for a Stanley Cup contender. The Islanders offer Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz as selling points for players that are interested in winning. This should help their cause, so the Islanders owe it to themselves to go after them.
The Islanders could use a guy that knows how to shine in the postseason if they want to go further than this season.
They had a wonderful season overall in a sense they made the playoffs and they built a foundation. They hired guys that are adults when it comes to running an organization and coaching players in Lamoriello and Trotz. They overachieved when no one expected them to make the playoffs, especially with John Tavares taking the easy way out of winning games by signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It ended in a thud because they did not have a player like Williams to take them further.
They could address that by signing him and other playoff warriors this summer.