‘Hall Pass’ line providing matchup nightmares for Islanders
Don Sweeney entered another trade deadline hoping to accomplish two significant priorities: find a linemate for David Krejci and address the Bruins’ 5v5 scoring struggles.
Surely, the sixth-year Bruins GM took a risk acquiring Taylor Hall from Buffalo. After all, the 2010 top overall pick hardly lived up to his 2018 Hart Trophy season, netting a mere two goals in 37 games during his tumultuous Sabres tenure. Yet, his eagerness for a new start and his respect for Boston’s tight-knit locker room culture provided Hall a unique opportunity to help the team’s postseason chances.
Hall developed instant chemistry with David Krejci and off-season addition Craig Smith. With a balanced lineup, the Bruins no longer needed the potent top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to produce the bulk of the scoring. The added scoring depth from the new-look second line helped the Bruins become the top 5v5 scoring team from the trade deadline on.
The offensive production wasn’t the only trait that stood out. The Bruins hoped for Hall to find his scoring touch again. He did just that, and more, establishing himself as a 200-foot player with timely back checks and stout physicality.
Hall displayed his well-rounded effort in the first goal of Game 3. The veteran winger began the sequence by interrupting Mat Barzal’s entry into the Islanders’ attacking zone, prompting Matt Grzelcyk to transition the puck down the other end of the ice. From Grezlecyk’s feed, Hall set up Smith in the slot for his second goal of the playoffs.
“It’s never going to be perfect, but I have the skillset to [contribute] on the other end of the rink,” Hall said of his 200-foot game. “I can chase down guys in the neutral zone and make their lives hard. In the D zone, I can close quick on the d-men and make plays along the wall. That’s all I really try to do.”
The Bruins peppered Semyon Varlamov with 41 shots on net in their 2-1 overtime win in Game 3. They entered survival mode late in regulation following Barzal’s equalizer. Tuukka Rask backstopped his team with timely saves in that stretch before Brad Marchand tallied his third career postseason sudden death winner.
Amid the back and forth tilt, the ‘Hall Pass’ line of Hall, Krejci and Smith remained assertive in all three zones. The trio outshot the Islanders 10-0 in their 12:15 of 5v5 ice time. The Bruins also outshot the Islanders 15-0 when Hall was on the ice in his 16:37 of 5v5 action.
The aforementioned stats caught Hall by surprise. Quite frankly, Hall’s exceptional 200-foot game initially provided an eye-opening experience for Bruins fans. Hall’s offensive skillset became his calling card when the Oilers drafted him a decade ago, but the Calgary-born forward developed a newfound respect for his defensive traits following his three-plus seasons in New Jersey.
“I didn’t know that, but that’s great. That’s something that has to continue,” Hall said of the 5v5 dominance. “Obviously it’s tough to hold teams to just one shot, but when we’re out there, we don’t want to play in our D zone. We want to exit as soon as possible and make it really hard on them to enter with control. If we have to play in our D zone, try to keep shots to the outside and limit their second chances.”
“Since I’ve gotten here, our team plays a really good defensive style, and I’ve just had to adapt to that. But I’ve always tried to play well defensively,” Hall added. “I’m not sure if that’s been my reputation, but I always come into games [with that mindset]. No one wants to be on the ice for goals against, and everyone wants to play in the O-zone. And the best way to do that is to eliminate plays in your D zone, get out of there quickly, and go play in the fun zone, which is obviously the offensive zone.”
‘The fun zone’ provided Hall with stellar highlight reel tallies like his marker in Game 3 against the Capitals. It’s also allowed the rest of the ‘Hall Pass’ line to deliver their own timely offensive moments, like Smith’s double-overtime winner to give the Bruins a 2-1 series lead over Washington.
Certainly, Hall encountered his share of fun establishing himself as a significant cog in Boston’s culture. He’s helped the Bruins thrive in any lively postseason environment be it at TD Garden or Nassau Collesium. This is Hall’s first trip to the second round of his career, and in part because of the top-six mismatch in this series, he sits two wins away from embarking on the NHL’s version of the ‘Final Four.’
“It’s been a lot of fun. This group makes it enjoyable,” Hall said. “And I don’t think anyone feels pressure coming into games. I think we’ve looked to enjoy it and enjoy the atmosphere — it was a fun atmosphere last night — and that’s just the way we’re approaching things with one game at a time.”