Esa Tikkanen and What Might Have Been

As time tiks, err, ticks away, one gaffe will remain timeless in the minds of Capitals fans.

Esa Tikkanen played in a whopping 186 playoff games over the course of his 14-year career, winning five Stanley Cups along the way and racking up more points in the playoffs (132) than all but 37 players all-time.

Of course, Capitals fans will remember him best for this:

With the Caps already down a game in the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals, but leading Game 2 by a goal on the road in the last ten minutes of regulation, Tikkanen beat Chris Osgood and... pushed the insurance goal wide.

The Caps would go on to lose the game 5-4 in overtime and the series - their only appearance in the Finals up to then or since - in four games, and Caps fans are left wondering what might have been, if not for the biggest blooper in team history.

Truth be told, the Caps might not have even made it to the point where they could blow a Stanley Cup Finals game if not for Tikkanen - five of his six points that spring came in Caps wins, including the team's first goal in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals in Buffalo that Joé Juneau would eventually end, punching the team's ticket to the big dance. And his teammates said as much, as then-captain Dale Hunter noted "He's one of the big reasons why we're here."

Tik was the player the Caps hoped he would be when they'd traded for him three months earlier.

But then, ever-so-briefly - and now eternally - he wasn't.

Tikkanen, ever the veteran, brushed it off. "This is just part of the game," he'd say. "Too bad it happened today. Hopefully I can bounce back Saturday and do better." What else was he going to say?

Of course, there's no telling what would have happened if Tikkanen had buried that lay-up, that tap-in; the Caps were still absurdly out-gunned by a Red Wings team that featured more future Hall-of-Famers than the Caps had double-digit goal-scorers. Who knows how the series might have gone. Heck, the Caps may yet have blown that Game 2.

Or they might have headed home to their still-new downtown arena with momentum and confidence and their white-hot goalie (who had entered that game with a .946 save percentage in the playoffs) and... yeah... who knows?

[Ed. note: This post is our entry in an SB Nation Hockey-wide effort to identify the biggest bloopers or gaffes in the respective teams' histories. More on that to come.]

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