One of the memorable moments of recent years in the Montreal Forum occurred not on the ice but in the press room.
Toe Blake, reacting with rage when a French writer turned the television set to a World Hockey Association game involving the Quebec Nordiques, switched channels and shouted, "If you want to watch that Western Hockey League, you can damn well do it somewhere else."
One can only imagine Blake's reaction Sunday night when those same Nordiques, now a member of the NHL, whipped the lordly Canadiens, 5-4, in Le Colisee at Quebec City, in a game nationally televised over a special French-language hookup. For Blake, a mere adviser at the time of his television tantrum, now is the Canadiens' vice president in charge of hockey operations.
The return of Blake, second-most successful coach in NHL history, to a key role in the Canadiens' organization was one of several face-lifting -- or face-saving -- operations performed during the summer.
Bernie Geoffrion took over as head coach and Ron Caron became director of personnel in moves triggered by the departure of the NHL's all-time coaching leader, Scotty Bowman, to Buffalo and personnel director Al MacNeil to Atlanta.
There were defections on the ice, too, with goalie Ken Dryden opting for retirement and center Jacques Lemaire choosing Swiss francs over NHL intimidation.
However, the Canadiens wheeled and dealed their way through the expansion draft without expected losses, cadged goalie Denis Herron away from Pittsburgh and seemed just about as potent as ever -- until Sunday night.
Bowman had his differences with some of his players, management and the Montreal media, but he overcame them with one great attribute. He almost always won the big games.
Outside of a Stanley Cup final, it is hard to imagine a bigger game for the Canadiens than their initial visit to nearby Quebec City, where tickets were scalped for $200.
And they did not win, thereby providing the Nordiques with bragging rights of inestimable value, virtual assurance of a successful season no matter what happens hereafter.
The Canadiens can be expected to rebound with a vengeance tonight, as they visit the Capital Centre foir a 7:30 contest with a Washington Capitals club that has struggled to a 3-6 record. This is one of only two visits here this season by the Canadiens, who used to be more frequent guests as Norris Division compatriots of Washington.
In 32 meetings, the Capitals never have managed a victory, celebrating two ties and suffering 30 setbacks in a series in which they have been outscored, 191-53.
Lemaire's place on the big line with Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt was originally reserved for center Pierre Mondou, of whom all prospects seemed to indicate future superstar. However, Mondou has managed only two goals in nine games, so there is wonder about his response to such a pressure-packed role.
Herron has played sound hockey in the nets, posting a 2.50 goals-against mark as the No. 2 man behind Bunny Larocque. Meanwhile, Larocque, who used to gripe for more playing time during the Bowman-Dryden era, has been an unimpressive 4.00 and those cynics who said anyone could be a great goalie behind that Montreal defense are less certain of Dryden's contribution.
Larry Robinson has been his usually potent self on defense, but Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard, the club's new captain, have started slowly.
Up front, the goal-scoring figures dip considerably after Lafleur's nine, Shutt's seven and the six of Pierre Larouche, who collected four in one game.
There have been odes composed to both the Canadiens' demise and to their unwavering success, but it is unlikely there will be additional clues to future developments until another big game comes up.
Since the Canadiens do not return to Quebec City until April 6, and they figure to win the Norris title without exertion, it is doubtful they will be tested soon, although the Capitals would like to add a further indignity tonight, for their own well-being.
Center Guy Charron will be back in the Washington lineup, but center Dennis Maruk, who sat out Sunday's 6-4 victory at Edmonton, is questionable because of the bruised knee he suffered in Vancouver Saturday. Defenseman Pete Scamurra is unlikely to suit up, whil winger Bob Sirols remains a day-to-day invalid with that bad back.