When the Sharks and Red Wings faceoff at 6 p.m., it could be the biggest game in the history of HP Pavilion. San Jose has never played a Game 7 at home in the conference semifinals and that makes it the biggest winner-take-all contest ever played in Silicon Valley.
The two times the Sharks have advanced to the Western Conference Final were in 2004 (at Colorado) and 2010, but that happened in a Game 5 vs. Detroit where there was still room for error.
Pressure situations make for big wins and if a Sharks player ends up posting a series-clinching goal late in the contest or in overtime, it could be the biggest hero moment in franchise history. Up until now, that honor has belonged to Sharks Radio Color Analyst Jamie Baker.
“This is an elimination, winner-take-all, Game 7 in the second round,” Baker said. “Any Game 7 is huge and it gets magnified the deeper you go in the playoffs. You can’t tee it up any better than this.”
It’s been 17 years since Baker was the hero as his third period series-winning goal broke a tie game and the Sharks completed the 4-3 series win over the top-seeded Red Wings. Now there’s another crucial Game 7 and with the right timing, someone could take the mantel from Baker and that’s just fine with him.
“It could be tonight.” Baker said. “I want the team, I want the city, I want the organization to win the Stanley Cup. That’s what I’m cheering for. For them to win the Stanley Cup, someone’s going to score a goal. You can’t tee it up any better than this for somebody to come and do that (tonight).”
Every hockey player dreams of the moment where he could be the hero.
“It’s a special moment,” Baker said. “If you scrape away all the expectations, as a player growing up, you want to play pro and that’s your dream. The other dream is you’re going to play in a Game 7 and it’s going to mean something. It’s a lot of emotions for these guys tonight and that’s what they have to try and control.”
Baker is still recognized in San Jose for that Game 7 achievement, but said a team contributed to his perpetual spotlight.
“I might’ve been the hero in Game 7, but it was the top line(s) that put us in that position to do that,” Baker said. “Someone’s got to set up the opportunity for there to be a hero. You need 18 (skaters) going.”
THEN VS. NOW
Reflecting back on 1994, it was a dramatic upset, but not to the players in the room. In their eyes, they had every intention of winning, as do this year’s Sharks team.
“Even though we were an eight seed and nobody expected us to win, there was a lot of pressure inside that room,” Baker said. “We weren’t going there thinking this is okay if we lose. This was our job. We had the same goal. The hockey world didn’t expect us to be there.”
Similar to this year’s club, the 1994 version lost Game 6 and were outplayed throughout the contest.
“Going in there after losing Game 6, our mindset was to give yourself a chance to win the game,” Baker said. “We were anxious. There was pressure. There are just more external expectations on this hockey team because they’re expected to go further.”
San Jose rose to the top in 1994 while not having the same roster matchups as the 2011 club does. This year, the Sharks are the higher seeded club (San Jose is No. 2, Detroit is No. 3) and there’s talent up and down both lineups.
“On paper, these two teams match up,” Baker said. “(In 1994) they had the better chances and (goaltender Arturs) Irbe had to steal games. They were the better team, but in the dressing room, our goal was to win the series to try to give ourselves a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
If you remove Darren Helm’s empty net tally in this year’s Game 6, every contest has been a one-goal affair.
“I’ve never seen a series this close,” Baker said. “(Nicklas) Lidstrom talked about it, everybody has talked about it. It’s a one-goal series, take away the empty net goal (from Game 6). I wouldn’t be surprised if this going into overtime.”
Despite the three straight losses, Bakers sees a similar belief between the clubs separated by 17 years.
“It’s all about that team and how we found a way to win,” Baker said. “It was the greatest turnaround in NHL history. In the final 42 games of that year, we had the fifth-best record in the NHL. We’d been playing pretty good hockey for an eight seed. There was a belief in the room. (This year’s team) thinks they’re going to win tonight’s game, they believe and they have every reason to.”
If that happens, one question – who’s the hero? – will be answered.
AN INTROSPECTIVE TWEETLogan Couture
found this quote to use on his Twitter account.
"There's a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Try to walk that line without crossing it."