The Bruins–Canadiens series that resumes tonight in Montreal has become one of the most compelling hockey series we’ve seen in quite some time.

The Bruins appeared down and out after losing the first two games at home. But after three straight wins – two in overtime – the B’s have a chance to close it out tonight at the Bell Centre.

It’s been a series of redemption for the Bruins. Coach Claude Julien began this series with people demanding nothing less than an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals.

After Boston lost in Game 7 of the second round – at home – each of the past two seasons, a first- or second-round elimination would be a massive disappointment to Bruins fans who’ve been waiting for a Stanley Cup since 1972.

Win two rounds or get fired. Those are serious expectations to live up to. And, in the second period of Game 4 Thursday night, it looked like Julien was in danger of failing to live up to them. The Bruins found themselves trailing 3-1 and were on the verge of falling behind in the series by the same margin.

That’s when Julien called a timeout. And that’s when the Bruins responded.

By the end of the period, the Bruins had tied the game. By the end of the night, they had tied the series. And, just like that, the Bruins had all of New England back on the bandwagon.

Julien wasn’t the only one hearing it from the fans at the start of this series. Callers to sports talk radio were demanding that Micheal Ryder be benched. He hadn’t scored a goal in the first three games of the series, and star-of-the-future Tyler Seguin was sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch.

That all changed after Ryder scored two goals Thursday, including the winner in overtime. He also went on to make one of the most important saves of the series, a glove stop on Tomas Plekanec who was firing the puck toward a wide-open net in the first period of Game 5 at the Garden on Saturday night.

That game, of course, was won by the Bruins when Nathan Horton scored in the second overtime. Horton has been largely disappointing in his first season with the Bruins. Brought in to add scoring touch and presence in front of the net, he has disappeared for long stretches and had just one point in the first four games of the series.

Julien stuck with both Ryder and Horton, and he has been rewarded for his loyalty. He has also stuck with Tim Thomas – the team’s regular season MVP and the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. As good as Thomas has been, some fans wanted Julien to make the move to Tuukka Rask after the first two games. Thomas let in early goals in each of those games, and also gave up two weak goals in the Game 3 win.

Then came Saturday night. Thomas made 44 saves, including 19 in the two overtimes. His best save of the game – perhaps the season – was a stop on Brian Gionta to kill a Canadiens’ two-on-one bid. Horton delivered the winner just moments later.

Julien’s patience with his players makes you think of Terry Francona. The Red Sox manager has long stuck with his players – from Kevin Millar to Dustin Pedroia to David Ortiz – and has two World Series trophies to show for it.

The loyalty he has shown his Bruins doesn’t mean Julien is guaranteed to bring the Cup back to Boston. If we’ve learned anything in this series, it’s that these are two of the most unpredictable teams in the playoffs.

Yet Julien has brought the Bruins back from the brink with his handling of the team over the past three games.

And he’s brought a lot of Bruins fans back to the playoff party in the process.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.