The New Jersey Devils are back in their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning after winning Game 3, and it’s almost solely because Taylor Hall can’t be stopped.
With their backs to the wall on Monday night, trailing the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in their best-of-7 series, the New Jersey Devils fell behind.
Down 1-0 in halfway through the game, the puck deflected onto the stick of Taylor Hall in the slot. It was there for a nanosecond, then it was between Andrei Vasileyskiy’s pads and into the back of the net.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, the Devils were desperate. Thanks to a pair of Tampa Bay penalties, they landed a 5-on-3 power play, ending with a Will Butcher wrister, with a wonderful setup coming from Hall.
Then, with under 10 minutes remaining in the last period, Hall sent Prudential Center into bedlam with a magnificent pass across the width of the ice to Stefan Noesen, who blasted a one-timer past the flailing Vasileyskiy for what was ultimately the game-winner.
Through three games against the Eastern Conference’s best team, Taylor Hall has been nothing short of Rembrandt on skates, notching two goals and three assists.
His performance throughout the season — 93 points including 39 goals — has been akin to Secretariat at the Belmont in 1973, with each move more stunning than the last.
Few believed Hall, 26, could possibly drag this cast of forgotten men to the Stanley Cup playoffs. As it turned out, he has been the catalyst for one of the most exciting teams in hockey, leading a charge nobody saw coming.
New Jersey, which was picked by most experts to finish dead last in the Metropolitan Division prior to the season, reached the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Hall spent his entire campaign with an 18-year-old centerman in Nico Hischier and a large chunk of it with Jesper Brett, another teenage rookie on the opposite wing. He has helped the Devils keep winning when Marcus Johansson, Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac were injured for long stretches, three players who projected as top-six forwards to start the year.
If you need a single stat to encapsulate Hall’s greatness, it is this. The Devils played 44 games after New Year’s Day, and Hall had points in 36 of them, including 14 multi-point nights. Of those 14, eight came against eventual playoff teams.
More incredibly, Hall potted 27 goals in that span, which would have tied his previous season-high for an entire season. Lastly, the Edmonton native did all that while missing four tilts, meaning all the production was crammed into 40 contests.
Now, it is Hall who is almost single-handedly putting Tampa Bay on notice, even with Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonough greeting him almost every shift.
Whether or not the Devils can complete the comeback and stun the Lightning is both unknown and borderline irrelevant. Taylor Hall has put on a virtuoso performance that any hockey fan can appreciate, and he’s coming down the stretch in epic fashion.