- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2016

Justin Williams knew about the so-called “Rule of Threes,” so after he took a slap shot off his right hand in a game on Feb. 15, 2009 and broke it he figured he’d be fine once he recovered.

“From that point on, I just decided to chalk that all up to [bad] luck and I wanted to move on from it,” Williams said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to do that.”

The broken hand followed a tough 11-month stretch for Williams, who had recently recovered from torn ligaments in his left knee and a torn Achilles’ tendon.

Those days, he hopes, are long behind him. Williams, 34, was recognized for his longevity on Sunday night, when the Washington Capitals’ regular-season finale against the Anaheim Ducks served as his 1,000th game. Former teammates Keith Primeau, Rob Brind’Amour, Anze Kopitar and Cam Ward were among those expressing congratulation in a tribute video, as his Williams parents, Craig and Denise, and his children, Jade and Jaxon.

Among the gifts he received were a crystal trophy from the NHL and a silver stick, given to him by owner Ted Leonsis and president Dick Patrick, and players rewarded him with a trip for two to Scotland.



“It’s hard to be a good player in this league for any length of time,” coach Barry Trotz said. “When you’re not productive, you seem to fall out of the league, and he’s seemed to do all three of those: stay productive, stay fairly healthy and play a number of games at a very high level.”

Drafted 28th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000, Williams made an immediate impression in his debut, scoring a goal and picking up two assists in a season-opening victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

His battle to stay healthy commenced shortly thereafter, and the list is remarkable. He broke his left hand later that season, missing 19 games. He tore ACL and MCL in his left knee two years later, ending his season at the halfway point. The ligaments were re-torn during the 2007-08 season, and when he was set to return the following year, he tore his right Achilles’ tendon in a preseason workout.

The return from that injury preceded the broken right hand, and a year after that healed, he broke his right leg. All the while, Williams was traded in January 2004 from the Flyers to the Carolina Hurricanes, with whom he won the Stanley Cup in 2006. The Hurricanes, who grew disenchanted with his inability to stay healthy, traded him to the Kings during his recovery from the broken right hand in March 2009.

“I think throughout the years of playing hockey, you figure out what you can do and what you can’t do on the ice with regards to hitting, with regards to abating checks, with regards to making plays,” Williams said. “There are some things that you can do at other levels that you can’t do at this level, and in some of my injuries, I learned the hard way. Some of them were tough. Nothing you can do about it.”

The stay on the West Coast seemingly rejuvenated Williams. Once the broken leg, which cost him 33 games during the 2009-10 season, had finally healed, Williams missed just nine games the following season for a variety of minor ailments, then stayed relatively healthy.

He would again hoist the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, the season in which he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs, while gaining a reputation as a reliable postseason contributor for his seven goals and 7-0 record in Game 7 appearances.

“[He’s] a guy that’s been through it,” former Kings teammate Drew Doughty said. “He has all the scars and bruises to prove it.”

Signed to a two-year, $6.5 million contract by the Capitals in July, Williams has put together his most productive season in four years. The second-line right wing for much of the year, Williams‘ 22 goals and 30 assists entering Sunday gave him 52 points, putting him fourth on the team.

He had three goals in a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Jan. 17, marking the second hat trick of his career. He scored the overtime winner at the New York Islanders on Feb. 18, and he also had a five-game point streak that extended into early November.

“He’s got character. He goes to the net,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. “He does all of those things that you want your veterans to do.”

In recent years, Williams has learned ways to pace himself and take care of his body. He has been more willing to sit out optional practices, as he did for the morning skate prior to a game against the Islanders last week, if he believes he needs to do so.

“Little things like that elongate your career,” Williams said. “People say, ‘Stretch your legs, stretch your career.’ I’ve been able to do that.”

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