Because the Montreal Canadiens had taken a 2-1 lead over the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup final, this was probably a pleasant day at school for the young sons, aged 9 and 13, of Montreal Coach Jean Perron.

It has not always been so comfortable for Perron or his family in his first season of trying to fill what may be the most demanding job in professional sports.

For Jacques Demers of St. Louis and Ted Sator of the New York Rangers, reaching the conference finals made this a very successful season. Bob Johnson will be honored in Calgary, win or lose. But in Montreal, there is only one criterion for judging success: a Stanley Cup.

If visiting teams at the Forum must contend with the ghosts of the past, so a coach of the Canadiens must survive in the shadow of Dick Irvin (three Cups), Toe Blake (eight Cups) and Scotty Bowman (five Cups).

Adding pressure is the presence of three French newspapers that thrive on hockey coverage. It is not unusual for each of them to have 10 or more hockey stories a day. If there is no news, then there will be speculation, and any Montreal defeat is grounds for speculation.

When Jacques Lemaire was overwhelmed by the pressure and resigned after one season, he was replaced last July by his assistant, Perron, a man whose prior credentials showed no NHL experience but did show a master's degree from Michigan State, three Canadian college championships in 10 years at the University of Moncton and a year as assistant coach of the Canadian Olympic team.

From day one, the Montreal media doubted Perron and speculated about a departure before Christmas. But Perron, although soft-spoken, has proven tougher than his critics figured.

"I try to be fair with reporters, but I don't want my family to read the papers," Perron said. "At times it's rough, but as long as it doesn't affect my family, I can handle it. It has been tough on my family at times.

"When you lose two or three in a row, the kids go to school and get teased about it. It should make them better adults, but it is not easy for them.

"In Montreal, everybody is a Canadiens fan, and they want to win every game. A friend of mine put it best, I think, when he said, 'We're with you, win or tie, but don't tie too often.' "

When the Canadiens lost six straight in March and came close to missing the playoffs -- they eventually beat out fifth-place Buffalo by seven points -- there was widespread speculation that one more loss would cost Perron his job.

Perron insists he was never concerned, saying, "I know where I stand with my GM [Serge Savard] and my president [Ron Corey]. It has been a tough year for everybody, though. When there's a new coach, the third in three years, at times it's a rocky boat."

Perron concedes he has made mistakes in his first season and has adjusted as he has grown with the job.

"Early in the season, I was maybe a little bit too far away from my players," Perron said. "I wanted to be tough, but maybe I didn't know what toughness meant.

"It's good to be tough as long as the guys understand the rules and what discipline means, and respect. At the end of the year, I was tougher, but in a more meaningful way. The guys know I respect them as long as they work hard and they respect their teammates.

"At first I wanted to know everything. I put in too much time in the video room and not enough in the dressing room. I wanted to know it all at once. As a rookie coach, you should let things happen in a progressive manner."

Perron did a lot of things right, however. He knew a number of players resented him and were hoping that Lemaire would leave his office as director of player personnel and return to the bench. He talked to them, beginning with leaders such as Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey, and gradually he earned their respect.

"I was a rookie and I knew some of the guys were not too happy about the change," Perron said. "They knew Jacques Lemaire and now they had a new coach and there was temptation to criticize.

"Communication was an important factor for me. When I had something on my mind, I said it.

"Larry Robinson and Bob Gainey are team players and they were behind me. They wanted to help and they did. And I've had good rapport with Serge Savard. A lot of people never heard of me, but he knew my past and he felt I was the man for the job."

Robinson said, "Respect isn't something you're given. You have to earn it. Jean made some mistakes, but he earned our respect."

Savard said, "I felt all season that Jean was doing a good job. We had a lot of rookies and he had to wear very large shoes, Jacques Lemaire's shoes. People have tried to compare them all season, and I don't think that was fair."

If much of the season was rocky, Perron is enjoying it now, as the Canadiens approach the pinnacle.

"A year ago at this time, I looked at [Philadelphia Coach] Mike Keenan and said to myself, 'Boy, it must be a long season for him,' " Perron said. "Now, I'm in the same position he was in, and I don't think about it at all. This is exciting. I mean, really exciting."

Calgary's Joe Mullen suffered a strained neck when he was checked into the boards by Gaston Gingras during Montreal's 5-3 victory Tuesday. Although it is not serious, Mullen is doubtful for Game 4 here on Thursday . . . Boston's Charlie Simmer received the Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey at the annual Stanley Cup luncheon today.