At age 30, defenseman Rick Green has earned the respect of fans, coach and teammates in this most demanding of hockey cities. Throw in a Stanley Cup ring, which becomes more likely with each passing opponent, and life would be as shiny as Green's burgeoning bald spot.

When the players were introduced before Thursday's opener in the Prince of Wales Conference championship series, the Forum crowd honored Green with a lengthy, resounding cheer. If the salutes for Larry Robinson and Claude Lemieux were a bit louder, Green nevertheless was being recognized as one of the keys to the Canadiens' run for a 23rd Stanley Cup.

Certainly, Jean Perron, Montreal's rookie coach, appreciates Green's value.

"He is my repair man," Perron said. "When somebody else makes a mistake, I know that he will be back to make up for it."

Craig Ludwig, Green's usual partner on the back line, has benefited from the veteran's steadying influence.

"Whatever the situation may be, you can be sure that Greenie will stay calm," Ludwig said. "I can say that he probably is the steadiest defenseman I ever played with."

Hockey has not always been so rewarding for the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder who was the first pick in the NHL draft in 1976. Green spent his first six seasons in Washington, where his sense of responsibility on defense went unappreciated by fans who preferred Robert Picard's rushing style and Yvon Labre's crunching checks.

It reached the point at Capital Centre that the appearance of Green's face on TelScreen was a signal for a shower of boos from the stands. When he was dispatched to Montreal in the Rod Langway deal in 1982, Green was not -- in gross understatement -- unhappy.

Today he has even more reason to be elated, as the vagaries of postseason play have left the Canadiens the favorites to win the Cup over the crippled Calgary Flames, as well as the New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues.

Montreal has a 1-0 edge on the Rangers, with Game 2 in their best-of-seven series scheduled here Saturday. The team winning the opener has prevailed in 11 of 12 playoff matchups thus far.

"Yeah, I have to say I'm not disappointed to be in the playoffs here instead of in Washington," Green said. "But I haven't looked any farther ahead than period to period.

"I've heard too much from other teams, about how great things were going to be, and then they're out."

Thursday's 2-1 victory over the Rangers was Green's 41st playoff game, all during his four seasons with the Canadiens. The Capitals did not qualify for postseason competition until after Green had been dealt away.

There was initial resentment against Green and Ryan Walter here because Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin made the celebrated trade look so unbalanced. But the years and Green's solid defensive play have won the fans over.

"It's been good here," Green said. "I don't think they've had anything to complain about. Jean Perron has shown a lot of confidence in me and given me all the ice time I need. I have to play a lot to do my best."

Green has thrived with the seemingly excessive playing time directed at him and Robinson. He was on the ice more than 30 minutes in each of the last two games against Hartford as Perron basically went with only four defensemen. On Thursday, the duties were reduced, with Mike Lalor joining Green, Robinson, Ludwig and Chris Chelios in a five-man rotation.

"We haven't gone with six since the playoffs started," Green said. "He's got his idea on when he feels guys are sharp and he doesn't mind how much ice time he gives you. It sure hasn't hurt. We're sharp, and physically I feel fine."

Green's injuries have made things difficult in the past, and he never had played more than 71 games in a season until last year, when he dressed for 77. But this season the jinx returned, as he missed nine games with a sprained ankle and 25 with a broken right thumb suffered in a New Year's Eve exhibition against the Soviet Army.

"That was a fluky accident and it set me back quite a bit," Green said. "It just got hit the wrong way. At that point, I was frustrated, because things had been going so well.

"I got my business going to keep my mind busy, and the long time off was something of a learning process."

The business is a restaurant called Greeners' Landing, which opened in February in Peterborough, Ontario. Green is a partner with Gary Green (no relation), his onetime coach in Washington.