MONTREAL — Through the first three games of the series, falling behind early was a harbinger of doom.
The Bruins couldn't overcome Montreal's fast starts in the first two games in Boston and the Canadiens' rally in Game 3 came up short after the Bruins jumped out to the early advantage.
So when Montreal struck first on a Brent Sopel goal at 8:13 of the opening period, things looked a little bleak for the Bruins on Thursday night in Game 4. And when the Canadiens exploded for two goals in less than a minute midway through the second period after the Bruins had tied it once, the 21,273 screaming fans at the Bell Centre could taste a commanding 3-1 series lead for their Habs.
But the Bruins weren't willing to follow the script laid out by the previous three games. They didn't have another rally in them. They had two more.
Andrew Ference and Patrice Bergeron scored to tie the game in the second, then Chris Kelly answered another Montreal goal late in the third to force overtime, where Michael Ryder's second of the night lifted Boston to the 5-4 win and evened the series at 2-2.
"We persevered and we stayed with it," Bergeron said. "It wasn't necessarily our best first period, but we stuck with it and found a way."
No one persevered more than Ryder. He was mired in one of the worst slumps of his career with just one goal in his last 20 games, including three point-less efforts to start this series. He was a healthy scratch three times in the final 14 games of the regular season, and many fans were calling for him to return to the press box for this series.
Claude Julien never wavered, though, and was rewarded in a huge way on Thursday.
"Obviously there wasn't any intention because we didn't make any [lineup changes]," Julien said when asked if he considered making any changes after falling down 2-0 in the series. "I don't think Michael Ryder has been a bad player for us in the playoffs. He scored tonight and he is the hero, but I don't think he was a guy you wanted to point a finger at. We just needed to be better as a team. That's what we believed in and that's why we stuck with the same lineup."
Ryder, in turn, appreciated the faith his coach maintained in him.
"I've been with him for a while," said Ryder, who played for Julien in junior, the AHL and with Montreal before being reunited in Boston three years ago. "Just for him to give me the ice time and give me the confidence, for me, it just gives me that extra boost to show people that I can still play and still got it."
That entire third line played like it had something to prove. Kelly, wearing a full cage after suffering a facial injury in Game 3, scored the tying goal with 6:18 to play and added two assists, including the primary helper on Ryder's game-winner, while Rich Peverley chipped in a pair of assists on the tying and winning goals.
"Besides the first shift that line had, I thought they were really good the rest of the night," Julien said. "Michael scored two goals, but Kelly scores one and gets an assist on another one. That whole line was really good for us tonight and you need those kinds of things in the playoffs. You need guys to step up and that line did for us."
And thanks in large part to that line, the Bruins now are back even in this series, with momentum on their side after two straight wins in Montreal and the confidence of knowing that they are capable of coming back against this Montreal team.
"At the end of the night you kind of look at it and after you get the win you say it was probably nice to see us go through this," Julien said. "You hope your team grows from it and learns from it. Obviously it's certainly good for their confidence, but at the same time it's a 2-2 series. We're back to scratch. We've evened things out. Now it becomes a best out of three."