Jamie Baker didn’t have much time to enjoy the biggest goal of his NHL career.
Twenty-five years ago next week, Baker scored the Sharks’ Game 7-winning goal that clinched a shocking upset of the top-seeded Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Before that could happen, though, San Jose had to protect a lead for over six-and-a-half minutes.
“Like, literally 10 seconds after scoring,” Baker, the former Sharks winger and current NBC Sports California analyst recalled, “all five of us that are on the ice hugging and all that, and [former Sharks captain] Bob Errey looks up at the clock and says, ‘Boys, we’ve got lots of work to do. We haven’t won this thing yet.’ ”
They ultimately did.
Those Sharks, only a year removed from winning 11 games, hung on to beat a team with six eventual Hall of Famers and win their first playoff series.
These Sharks have a few more regular-season and playoff wins under their belt, but they hope to follow in the footsteps of Baker and their predecessors when San Jose faces the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 at SAP Center on Tuesday night.
Baker’s goal wasn’t the flashiest in franchise history, but it is remembered as perhaps the most important. He pounced on a turnover from Red Wings goaltender Chris Osgood, and fired the puck on net with Osgood scrambling, trying to return to his crease.
But the goal was a product of the Sharks’ game plan and his teammates’ execution, according to Baker. He said the Sharks just wanted “to keep it close” heading into the third period, relying upon their experience from scratching and clawing for a playoff spot down the stretch of the regular season.
The Sharks jumped out to a 2-0 lead within the first 14 minutes, but the Red Wings tied the score just 2:36 after the first intermission.
When fellow Sharks forward Ray Whitney pressured Osgood on the forecheck, Errey took away the netminder’s pass behind the net. With Osgood in trouble, San Jose was in position for the go-ahead goal in more ways than one.
“I just stepped on the ice, and I sealed off the short-side boards,” Baker said. “The puck came and landed flat on my stick -- which was the hockey gods -- but we went into that game and said, ‘Let’s give ourselves a chance in the third period.’ And lo and behold, exactly what we set out to do as a group happened.
“They made the mistake … and you can’t do that at that juncture of a game, at that juncture of a series. They did, we capitalized, and then we hung on to win it.”
As he would the morning of many other elimination games in his career, Baker said he intentionally found things to do away from the rink to distract himself from the game. He didn’t want to make the same mistake he had earlier in his career.
During an important game when he was younger -- with St. Lawrence University, to his recollection -- he was “kind of drained midway through the game.” Big games “motivated him more than anything” growing up, but in this instance, his mind had been racing with so many thoughts leading up to the game that he couldn’t find the energy necessary to perform at the level he needed.
Moving forward, Baker did just about anything to occupy his mind. Whether that was going to the mall or -- in one particular instance -- gardening, he made sure to keep busy before he began his pregame routine.
“Once I got to the rink, it was so easy to get up for the game,” Baker said. “You knew that. So, you have to learn how to control your emotions and you need to peak at puck drop, and then stay at that level until the game is over. You can’t do it until you go through it.”
Many of these Sharks have gone through it. So have the Golden Knights, despite Tuesday representing their first Game 7 in franchise history. The majority of Vegas' squad is intact from a season ago when the Golden Knights won three elimination games en route to the Stanley Cup Final, including one at SAP Center in Game 6 of the second round.
If the Sharks find themselves leading in the third period just as Baker and his teammates did a quarter-century ago, he said they can’t afford to get ahead of themselves.
“These are two Stanley Cup-contending teams meeting in the first round,” Baker said. “If you get a goal, you know it’s far from over. … You can’t worry about the end, you have to worry about the means.”
Even after the final whistle blew on April 30, 1994, and Baker’s goal stood as the Game 7-winner, he said he still didn’t have much time to celebrate. Two days later, the Sharks began a new series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his focus shifted to a new opponent.
Reflection on the accomplishment would have to wait until the end of his career, and since then, Baker's Game 7 goal tops many fans’ lists as the best in Sharks history. He joked that he hopes his goal doesn’t ultimately stay there since it will mean better ones would have passed his tally.
What Baker looks back most fondly on is that he had the chance in the first place.
“I tell people what I’m most proud of,” Baker said, “is that the coach was putting me on the ice in the last 10 minutes of Game 7 against one of the best teams in the league. I worked really hard for a long time to make the NHL, and you’ve got to put yourself in a position to get lucky. But, luck follows sometimes when you have the details and all of that.”