Bruins' Investment in Taylor Hall Pays Huge Dividends in Game 2 Win vs. CapsMay 18, 2021
Taylor Hall's first postseason appearance might have felt magical to those in New Jersey, but the magic disappeared as soon as the puck dropped in Tampa.
Three years ago, the New Jersey Devils broke a five-year drought to get into the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it was largely based on Hall's unreal efforts during his MVP season.
The Devils returned to the Prudential Center down 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first-round series. Fans of the historic franchise knew nothing but winning for years before the playoff-less streak, and they were primed for a victory.
Actor Patrick Warburton reprised Seinfeld character David Puddy, Elaine Benes' boyfriend and Devils superfan, flying in from Los Angeles in full face paint.
The Devils needed a hero, and they got one in Hall, who scored a goal and assisted on two others to keep New Jersey in the series in a 5-2 win.
It's been anything but magical for Hall since then. A knee injury, a trade to the Arizona Coyotes, a disastrous stint with the Buffalo Sabres and then another trade, the third one for the top pick in the 2010 NHL draft.
But this trade seems to have allowed Hall to finally capture some of that playoff magic that has generally eluded him. Now with the Boston Bruins, Hall has silenced the doubters who hinted he was a drag on team culter and proved to those who said he'd lost his touch that he can absolutely make an impact.
That was obvious Monday night in Boston's 4-3 overtime win over the Washington Capitals. Hall scored a greasy goal to tie the game with 2:49 to play in regulation, displaying his will and showing he is still the same Hall he was in 2018.
"He's been really invested since he's been here," coach Bruce Cassidy said in his postgame Zoom press conference. "I think he just wanted to do really well right away, and that's a good mindset to have, but there is a lot of hockey left and a lot of teammates to remind him, Listen, just keep playing, and when it's your turn, you'll make the right play. And sure enough, he did."
The play that he made could be what sets Boston apart. Instead of going back to Massachusetts down 2-0, the series is even at 1-1. It's a much more favorable position to be in, and Hall knows that all too well.
It started with a strong zone entry by Hall, as he beat Washington defenseman John Carlson to the net and threw the puck at goalie Craig Anderson, who up until that point had been the story of the game. But he hung around Anderson's crease as the Bruins caught up to him, and Hall kept whacking at the puck until he got it through.
"I thought as the game wore on, the score might not have reflected it, but we really found our game," Hall said. "By the third period—their goal excluded—I thought we really had it. We had a lot of action at the net, a lot of shots there. And we're going to have to continue doing that."
Cassidy credited top-line forward Brad Marchand for "dragging the team into the fight," but Hall was ready for that fight. He's been ready for it since Boston acquired him at the deadline in April for Anders Bjork and a second-round pick. He used a no-movement clause to engineer a trade to the team that he once thought might draft him, seeing a star-laden lineup that he thought he could add to.
Hall appeared humbled after his journey from MVP to afterthought. In his introductory press conference, he said he didn't want to be the focal point anymore, he just wanted to be able to contribute. He spoke about how the Sabres' confidence became shaky amid a rough season, but he knows winning fixes that.
The 29-year-old has speed, a lethal shot and the playmaking ability to drive his own line, but with David Krejci and Craig Smith on his line, he doesn't need to do everything by himself anymore. The results were immediate: Hall scored eight goals and assisted on six for 14 points in 16 games after the trade.
"It's been 16 games, and it's probably been some of the most enjoyable hockey I've ever played in my career," he told reporters before the postseason started. "I hope there's more to come."
With Hall, the Bruins have an elite five-on-five offense, and they are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. This is what he wanted and what he knew he could accomplish on the right team.
"I still think I have another level to get to, personally," he said after the latest win. "But as a team, we came together and won a game and that's all you can ask for."
The leadership group in Boston has been influential for Hall. During that 2018 season in New Jersey, the team had veteran glue guys like Brian Boyle, Ben Lovejoy, Travis Zajac and Andy Greene, but Hall was the premier skill player. Having a group of elite skill players like Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to set the tone of the locker room is a completely different experience.
"You're always laughing and having fun (in every locker room), but we've got some Hall of Famers in here; that probably makes it a little bit easier to enjoy and be yourself," he said.
Hall went to Boston eager to make an impact in just his third postseason. His presence wasn't quite as strong in the first game of this first-round series, but his determination paid off in the second contest. He drew a penalty, led the team with 11 shot attempts and seven shots on goal, and his speed was difficult to contain in the neutral zone.
Hall had five scoring chances and five high-danger chances, per Natural Stat Trick.
"You have a great start to your Bruins career and then the other night it didn't really happen, so you want to make a difference," Cassidy said. "I love guys like that who want to make a difference. They're not going out there and being reckless, they're playing for the team. Yeah, he did have a penalty there, but he did chip by a chase. He didn't try to toe-drag the guy; it was unfortunate. And he bounced back."
Hall is a better player with the Bruins, and the Bruins are better with Hall. The magic may have finally returned.