On the same night that Leon Spinks victory provided inspiration to the underdogs of the world, the overdogs had their triumphant champion. The Montreal Canadians thrashed St. Louis, 6-2, to establish and NHL record of 24 games without a defeat.

Tonight, when they visit Capital Center for a 7:30 engagement with the Washington Capitals, the Canadiens will be noting an anniversary of sorts. It has been exactly two months cince they last lost a game, at Pittsburgh.

It seemed logical that the Canadiens would spend yesterday celebrating, or resting, or in leisurely travel here from St. Louis. Instead Coach Scotty Bowman was tracked down at the St. Louis Arena, where the Canadiens were practicing before boarding their flight for Washington.

"We always practice on the road," Bowman said. "We don't miss any days. The players are used to working up a sweat. They like it. Playing hockey should be fun. In football, you do a lot of work in sweats, but hockey practice is like the games. A lot of the same things happen."

Well, the Canadiens don't lose in practice, either. They certainly don't lose when they play Washington. The "rivalry" between the teams now stands at 20-0 and if it were table tennis, tonight might be time to call a halt. At least, the Capitals have made arrangements to alleviate their fans' suffering if things get too bad.

If is gym bag giveaway night and the drawstring canvas bags are perfect for slipping over one's head if it becomes too difficult to watch the proceedings.

Actually, no matter the home teams'problems, it is a treat just to watch the Canadiens, one of the great teams in the history of hockey.

Montreal has posted a 38-7-9 record, but its remarkable statistic is the road record of 20-4-5 in a sport where homeice is considered a tremendous advantage. Montreal's 45 road points are more than any other NHL teams has collected at home.

Bowman admits some surprise at the Canadiens' success. Last year, when the team was beaten only eight times in 80 games, he said it could never happen again. But Montreal is not far off the pace that made Bowman coach of the year over runner-up Tom McVie of Washington.

"Yeah I feel that's it's something to play a season like this coming off last year," Bowman said. "There are some teams in the league that have made good improvement. Boston and the Islanders have really come along."

It is noteworthy that neither of those teams has been able to beat Montreal. The New York Islanders have lost only two home games all season, both to the Canadiens.

"Sure, we're probably up a little more for those teams," Bowman said. "We did talk about the top six teams. But you can't point specifically for those games. A win is a win no matter where you get it.

"We learned our lesson three years ago, when we finished in a total-points tie with Buffalo and Philadelphia. We had the fewest wins, and would up losing to Buffalo in the playoffs. We played that season over many times looking for one more point."

That is one reason why the Capitals need expect no mercy tonight. Another is a reaction to the Canadiens' recent penchant for giving up goals. Before Wednesday's 6-2 contest, Montreal had yielded at least three goals in seven straight games.

"We're trying to tighten up," Bowman said. "Some guys have been disturbed and we've been talking about it. The Vezina Trophy (to the goaltenders of the team yielding the fewest goals) race is tight and that's one thing we never want to let go."

For a team that takes even Stanley Cups in stride, the Canadiens are proud of their 24-game streak, particularly since they had a 21-game run snapped last year by Buffalo.

"I think it's quite an accomplishment," Bowman said. "A lot of things can happen in eight weeks. All teams have ups and downs. You run into a tough stretech of travel, you get an off night in the nets or you run into a hot goaltender. And there are always injuries. We went most of the way without Guy Lapointe, and then Bob Gainey got hurt a couple of weeks ago. You miss some people more than others, and these are the kind you're going to miss.

"We ran into a hot goaltender in (Curt) Ridley in Vancouver (Feb. 2) and we were out of the game, sort of, at 4-2 with five minutes left. Then we scored twice in 40 seconds. A week ago, we ran into a hot team in Chicago. We were two down in the last seven minutes and got a tie (with two goals in 12 seconds). That's what started us thinking about the record."

It's also a warning, folks. Don't get overconfident if the Capitals jump to a big lead.