- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2019

Carolina Hurricanes forward Justin Williams likely didn’t mind getting a call on FaceTime in the middle of the night last June. Once he saw who was calling, he probably understood how they were feeling.

Members of the Washington Capitals called Williams, an old teammate, the night they won the Stanley Cup last year as they partied with the trophy around Las Vegas, Williams told NHL.com earlier this year.

Williams’ name was etched on the Cup three times, for winning in 2006 with Carolina and in 2012 and 2014 with the Los Angeles Kings. Nicklas Backstrom found those spots and texted pictures of them to Williams, as if to gush, “We’re going to join you on here next.”

“When I got it, I just wanted to send it to him because he’s obviously on there a couple times,” Backstrom said.

Backstrom once called Williams one of his “favorite people ever,” as well. But the two friends will be incommunicado for a while as the Capitals and Hurricanes gear up for their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series that kicks off Thursday.

“Obviously when he was here, we loved him as a guy,” Backstrom said. “But right now we’re not gonna talk to him for a couple weeks here.”

On a young Hurricanes team that many didn’t expect to qualify for the postseason, the 37-year-old Williams has been an important veteran presence. First-year coach Rod Brind’Amour elevated Williams to captain this year due to how respected he is in the locker room.

He was respected in Washington, too, for the two seasons he played for the Capitals from 2015 to 2017.

“If there’s one guy that you wanna take some advice from on how to play in the playoffs, (Williams) is it,” T.J. Oshie said. “I’m sure he’s going to have them ready to roll and it’s going to be a pretty intense and fun series.”

Backstrom recalled one Williams-ism that stuck with him long after his friend left Washington.

“He always said in the playoffs, momentum is dead after you win,” Backstrom said. “There’s a new game coming up, instead of, oh you got the win. He always reset the room … which I think is a good thing to do in the playoffs. Leave that other game and then move on, even if you win or lose.”

Williams was a mentor for younger wingers like Andre Burakovsky, who was 20 and 21 years old at the time. Burakovsky said he helped him on and off the ice.

“He’s a leader. He’s been around, he’s been winning before,” Burakovsky said. “He knows what it takes. I think him coming in to help our team, I think he did a lot for us and tried to guide us to the way to how we need to act in the playoffs to be successful.”

Even general manager Brian MacLellan was happy to praise Williams Monday, saying he “really senses the tone of an organization, of a team, where they are at in the games and playoffs.”

In Carolina, that meant creating a new tradition of “Storm Surge” team celebrations after home victories to rally the team and fan base — though Williams has said they won’t continue the practice in the postseason. That type of activity might not have flown in a locker room like Washington’s.

Now Williams, who holds the NHL record for career points in Game 7s and who won the 2014 Conn Smythe Trophy for postseason MVP, will be the galvanizing force for Washington’s first-round opponent, a Hurricanes team that is otherwise very green to the whole postseason thing.

“You either want to really, really make them earn it or you want to be able to push them out of it,” Williams told reporters in North Carolina. “By saying that I mean, at some point, somebody’s gonna give and say it’s too hard, and we gotta make sure it’s not us.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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