The celebration will be muted today when Guy Charron marks his 31st birthday. The Washington Capitals' all-time high scorer will be in Arlington Hospital for detailed examination of his damaged right knee, which will keep him off the ice a minimum of three weeks and may require surgery.

The diagnosis is a strained lateral ligament, according to Dr. Pat Palumbo. Tenseness in the muscle caused by pain prevented an assessment of the severity, so Charron will be given general anesthesia and administered a series of tests. Depending on the result, he will either be placed in a cast for several weeks or wheeled into the operating room.

"When I wake up, I'll know," Charron said. "If my leg is in a cast and it is painful, I'll know they operated. If it's in a cast and it's not painful, I'll know they didn't operate.

"If it needs surgery, I want it done now. I can play hockey a few more years and I wouldn't want to do something else for a short period of time and then need surgery anyway in a year or two."

Charron, who went under the knife to repair torn cartilage in his left knee eight months ago, was hurt early in the first pierod of the Capitals' 5-4 victory over the Jets Tuesday night. He put on a brace after the first period and finished the game.

"I was carrying the puck and I stopped just inside the Winnipeg blue line," Charron said. "There was a confusion of players and a guy came across and hit me. I felt a sharp pain, but I was able to finish the shift and I felt afterward that if I could finish the game, the extent of the injury was not real bad.

"When I woke up this morning, I knew from the soreness that it was worse than I expected. I'll remember my 31st birthday, the 30th, we beat New York and now this. For three years I never missed a game, but now I've had that pulled muscle, which I never had before, and this. Maybe I'll be lucky and get to play three more full seasons."

Because of pulled muscle in his right thigh, Charron had played only 33 games, collecting 11 goals and 20 assists. Ironically, on the day that Charron learns his fate in the hospital, Dennis Maruk will return to the ice for some easy skating as he continues a swift comeback from knee surgery Nov. 1.

"That dark cloud is still hanging over us: It's impossible to replace Maruks and Charrons overnight," said General Manager Max McNab, who returned to work yesterday afternoon after battling an intestinal upset that affected 25 persons who were on the team's weekend trip to Quebec.

Coach Gary Green, nine players and front-office personnel on the charter flight were affected by the mysterious ailment, which caused violent nausea and diarrhea.

A resume was compiled of what each person ate, and where, but food poisoning seemed doubtful because the symptoms appeared in such staggered fashion.

Winger Paul Mulvey, the first to be hit, became ill in the Quebec airport Sunday night before boarding the flight home. Others were not affected until yesterday morning. Mulvey was given a series of tests Monday, but no clue to the ailment was uncovered.

Rolf Edberg and Antero Lehtonen did not dress for Tuesday's game, while Robert Picard, Pierre Bouchard, Ryan Walter, Mike Kasczcki and Wes Jarvis played in considerable distress. Picard's performance under such conditions was remarkable and should silence forever the carping that he is lacing in dedication and determination.

Picard scored two goals, including the winner, and jarred the Jets with some solid checks, among them one that sent Winnipeg bully boy Jimmy Mann to the bench with bruised ribs.

"I was sick about five times before the game," Picard said. "It was awful. The doctor deserves a lot of credit for getting us settled. He gave us pills between periods and we drank flat Coke and by the third period I was starting to feel better."

The Capitals, who did not practice yesterday, will play Quebec at Capital Centre Saturday afternoon.