The Battle of Quebec is over and the Nordiques are the winners. But after Peter Stastny's overtime goal had beaten Montreal Thursday night, the players could not help wondering why their rivalry often is treated as though it were a real battle.
"I once put myself in the place of the fans, people who only get the outside view that's so exaggerated," Stastny said.
"The media plays it up and it becomes like the end of the world, even though we all know it's not life or death.
"The first couple of years I was right in the middle, so excited every time we played. Now I'm enjoying the games more because the games aren't controlling me. It's just unfortunate that one shot has to decide the whole season."
Obviously, it is more unfortunate for the Canadiens. After the traditional postgame handshake, they busied themselves consoling each other.
"This is as bad as it gets, losing to those guys, but I'll get over it," said defenseman Craig Ludwig, who attended North Dakota and lives in Wisconsin. "But guys like Mario (Tremblay) and Larry (Robinson) have to stay around here for the whole summer being asked questions about what happened. They're the guys I really feel sorry for."
"If there's one team in the league I hate, it's Quebec," said Montreal winger Mats Naslund. "Why, I don't know. You hear a lot of bad stuff behind your back, so you hate them, but when you think about it, it's hard to understand. I've had a much stronger feeling about some games I played for Sweden."
There is no doubt that the two breweries that own the teams, the sports-crazy French media and the status conscious managements -- particularly of the Canadiens, who tried in vain to keep Quebec out of the NHL -- have fanned the furor that surrounds the rivalry.
A writer from Sherbrooke, which is about equidistant from Montreal and Quebec, noted that after the Nordiques had beaten the Canadiens, also in final-game overtime, in 1982, most of the youngsters in Sherbrooke wore Nordiques' sweaters. Then, after Montreal won last year, only Canadiens' sweaters could be seen. Presumably, there will be another adjustment in fashion trends.
Even the coaches, Jacques Lemaire of Montreal and Michel Bergeron of Quebec, have made it plain that they dislike each other. They appeared together in a television commercial and Bergeron said, "It was business. In business, you do some things with people you like and some things with people you don't like."
The other night in Quebec City, fans slashed four tires on a car with a Canadiens crest. That started a fight that put two people in a hospital.
"I try to calm them down, but it isn't easy," said Pierre Bouchard, the ex-Capital who conducts a sports call-in show here. "They all want to know who I'm rooting for and I tell them I only root for Washington. They are so excitable, it's the only way out."
Quebec will play Philadelphia next, beginning Sunday at Le Colisee, and if other bitter rivals root for each other when they are not competing head-on, the same is not true here. An example of the strong feelings surrounding the rivalry was the chant that could be heard in the Forum after Thursday's game: "Let's go, Flyers."
The Campbell Conference final series will begin at Edmonton Saturday, when the defending champion Oilers meet Chicago. Edmonton has won five straight regular-season games from the Black Hawks and swept the clubs' last playoff meeting in four games in 1983. Chicago figures to be hard pressed to win a game; it was the last Norris Division team to do so in the Campbell final, losing, 4-1, to Vancouver in 1982.