22 years ago today, the San Jose Sharks pulled off a seemingly impossible upset for the second straight season. 22 years ago today, Ray Whitney’s Game 7, double overtime winner propelled the seventh-seeded Sharks past the second-seeded Calgary Flames and into the second round of the playoffs.
Jamie Baker’s series-winning goal against the Detroit Red Wings the previous season was oft-cited as the Sharks’ biggest goal in franchise history, at least prior to San Jose’s first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final last spring. Capping off an upset over the President’s Trophy winners a season after being the worst team in NHL history is, after all, difficult to match.
Yet, Whitney’s winner was nearly as improbable.
San Jose’s Game 7 was a near-perfect encapsulation of the entire series. The Sharks won the series’ first two games in the Saddledome by identical 5-4 scorelines, but promptly gave home-ice advantage back to the Flames after allowing 20 goals in three consecutive losses.
They were in a much different position entering Game 6 than the year before, when San Jose led 3-2 and had a chance to win the series on home ice. Unlike the year before, the Sharks did win on home ice, and forced a series-deciding seventh game with a 5-3 win in Game 6 at the then-San Jose Arena.
The Sharks, much like the series itself, jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Calgary cut the lead to a goal with less than a minute remaining in the second period, setting up a wild, back-and-forth third period.
San Jose failed to hold on to not one, but two two-goal leads in the game’s final 20 minutes, as Calgary tied the game with 5:56 remaining in regulation. The 4-4 score held for the next 27:50 and into a second overtime.
That is, until Ray Whitney etched his name into Sharks’ playoff lore.
Whitney deflected Sergei Makarov’s pass off of the far post and past Calgary goaltender Trevor Kidd. It was the fifth goal Kidd allowed on 30 shots.
In the other crease, Sharks goaltender Wade Flaherty stood tall in the face of substantial pressure. Flaherty stopped a franchise-record 56 shots in the game, and remains the only goaltender in franchise history to stop 50 or more shots in a playoff win.
Somehow, Flaherty also delivered a better performance than the Sharks got from Arturs Irbe a year before. He saved exactly twice as many shots as Irbe, who was benched for the rest of the series against Calgary after Game 5, did in the upset over Detroit.
The magic did not last, as the Red Wings swept the Sharks out of the second round and exacted revenge for the previous season’s upset. San Jose would not make the postseason for the following two seasons.
The Game 7 win 22 years ago didn’t put the Sharks on the map as their upset a year prior did. But, it further entrenched the Sharks’ reputation as a team ready to upset their higher-seeded competition.
That reputation persisted even as the members of the 1995 team were long gone, and reared its beautiful (or, ugly, if you’re a Blues fan) head when the Sharks upset the President’s Trophy-winning St. Louis Blues five years later. Whitney’s goal and the win it ensured did not begin the first winning era in Sharks history, but it certainly helped define it.