EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - Deep playoff runs often expose less-than-avid fans to opposing players they had not heard of before -- sometimes ones who introduce themselves by breaking your heart.
Take the Kings' Justin Williams, a solid but unspectacular 13-year pro who has played for three NHL teams, has won two Stanley Cups and scored the overtime goal that beat the Rangers, 3-2, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night.
Though the name did not likely ring a bell for most Rangers bandwagon-riders, the fact that he scored in the clutch came as no surprise to Kings fans or his teammates. It turns out that the soft-spoken Williams, 32, is one of the foremost big-game scorers alive.
He ranks first in NHL history with 14 career points -- including seven goals -- in playoff Game 7s and his teams are 7-0 in Game 7s. He has five points in three Game 7s this postseason alone, and eight goals and 12 assists in 22 playoff games this spring.
"I have said this many times: Justin is the most underrated player on our team, by a mile," star defenseman Drew Doughty said. "There are two guys on this team I want to give the puck to and that's him and [Anze Kopitar]. When they have the puck, plays happen."
Said captain Dustin Brown: "I think part of it is we have Drew Doughty, Jon Quick, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter. It's easy to get lost in the mix. That's a good thing, I think, in the sense I think he enjoys being under the radar. That's just part of his personality.
"He's very even-keeled. Playoff time sometimes brings out the best in some players."
Williams twice surpassed 30 regular-season goals with the Hurricanes in the mid-2000s, but in no other season has he scored more than 22. He had 19 goals in 82 games during this regular season.
When asked about Williams' less-than-fierce image not seeming to match his fierceness in important situations on the ice, coach Darryl Sutter said: "He's a very competitive player. I think there are a lot of players like that on our team.
"It's not like they're big, physical players. They're tenacious players. That's probably a good thing to call Justin. He's a tenacious player. Strong with the puck, handles the puck, makes good plays."
The plays may be merely "good," but the timing usually is great.