ended, 15.2 seconds after Vancouver Canuck goalie Kirk McLean had
allowed the most damaging score of the series, enabling the New York
Rangers to forge a 2-2 tie. As he made his way from his net toward
the exit for the dressing room, McLean was joined by Ranger Esa
Tikkanen, whose manner, from a distance, seemed to say, ''Going my
Hardly. ''I just tell him, 'Better get ready, we're coming after
you next period,' '' said Tikkanen. ''Nothing much.''
Nothing is probably how much of Tikkanen's barb McLean was
actually able to comprehend. When excited, Tikkanen, a gap-toothed
Finn, hurries and brutalizes English, and even his teammates have
difficulty understanding him.
Like McLean, however, they have no difficulty understanding why he
is called the Grate One. Tikkanen is a premier two-way forward, a
big-game player with a ferocious slap shot. He is comfortable at
center or on either wing and can quarterback the power play, win
face-offs, kill penalties and check like a demon. But it is his
ability to burrow under an opponent's skin that has won the aptly
nicknamed Tikk league-wide renown. ''I've coached against him,'' says
New York assistant coach Colin Campbell. ''He's an irritating guy, a
guy you love to hate.''
Tikkanen is a European who plays a distinctly un-European style.
''The Finn from Flin Flon,'' as teammate Kevin Lowe calls Tikkanen,
has made a cottage industry of erasing superstars in the playoffs.
He has grounded Wayne Gretzky, buried Pavel Bure and stifled Denis
Savard, to name a few. Ranger TV analyst John Davidson recalls once
asking Gretzky to name the best checker in the league. ''I'm going to
say Jan Erixon,'' Gretzky told Davidson. ''I don't want Tikkanen to
know anything.''
After being traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Rangers in
March 1993, Tikkanen found New York to be quite grating. As he was
strolling in midtown Manhattan last year, admiring the skyscrapers,
he collided with another pedestrian. ''I say, 'Excuse me,' but this
guy keep walking,'' recalls Tikkanen. ''Half hour later, I reach for
my wallet, it's gone.''
Tikkanen, who was acquired for Doug Weight, made plenty of Ranger
fans feel like they'd been robbed. Weight was a solid young player
with unlimited potential; Tikkanen gave every appearance of being
washed up after nine NHL seasons, all in Edmonton. He had just
recovered from a fractured left shoulder, and he was in poor game
shape. ''I was having lots of scoring chances, but I was snakebite,''
says Tikkanen. ''I hit crossbars, pipes, nothing going in for me.''
After intense off-season rehabbing, Tikkanen was back in his old
form in 1993-94. He had 54 points in the regular season and was New
York's top defensive forward in the playoffs. But most of all, he was
his usual obnoxious, grating self. Just ask McLean.