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Winning Play: Sliding doors in Buffalo

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Nov 23, 2018; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9), right wing Jason Pominville (29) and left wing Jeff Skinner (53) celebrate a win with teammates against the Montreal Canadiens at KeyBank Center.  Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

“Sliding door moments” are, according to psychologist Dr. John Gottman, “seemingly inconsequential everyday moments...that make or break the most important relationships in our lives.”

The term was coined from the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film. In it, two alternate, dramatically different futures unfold for a woman, based on whether she catches or misses a train.

A hockey game is full of sliding door moments, which lead to a loss or a win. A hockey season is also full of such moments, which lead to missing the playoffs or hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Evander Kane was faced with a sliding door moment in the overtime of the San Jose Sharks’ 3-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center.

On the cycle, Rasmus Dahlin (26) took the puck off the half-wall. Erik Karlsson (65) chased Dahlin, swiping at it. Cleverly, Dahlin backhanded a behind-the-back pass to himself, putting the puck away from where Karlsson was reaching to where the rookie wanted to go. Judging by Karlsson’s reaction, this maneuver surprised the Sharks defender.

In a race for the puck, Dahlin drove the center lane, while Karlsson hung on. Martin Jones (31) got out of his stance, poised to help. It was almost Kane’s (9) moment:

Almost.

Jones was able to stick away Dahlin’s gambit. Momentum took Karlsson and Dahlin out of the play. But Jeff Skinner (53), frankly, pursued the loose puck in the slot more alertly than Kane.

In another timeline, Kane tied Skinner up and tossed the puck to Joe Thornton (19) waiting high. Drawing Vladimir Sobotka (17) in, Thornton dropped it back to a hard-charging Kane, who had blown past Skinner. On the breakaway, the ex-Sabre, in his first game back in Buffalo, earned a thrilling comeback victory for the Sharks.

But that wasn’t what happened.

Anyway, it’s not fair to pin the loss just on Kane. Per Natural Stat Trick, the winger led San Jose with 5 Individual High-Danger Corsi For attempts. Across the board — +13.67 Corsi For Percent Relative, 77.78 Scoring Chances For Percent and 90.91 HDCF% — Kane flashed at 5-on-5.

He also almost won the game with about a minute left in regulation:

But in pursuit of a win — in pursuit of the Cup — every play can matter.