NEWARK, NJ — Devils forward Taylor Hall knows what is coming his way every time he dazzles on the ice in front of the home fans this season, as a cacophony of noise inside the Prudential Center coalesces into a single emphatic chorus.
As much as he would like to ignore his personal accolades and laud his teammates for putting him in the best situations to perform, his omnipotence during Tuesday evening’s game had every person in the Prudential Center focusing afterward on the man who must now be considered the frontrunner for the Hart Trophy.
Hall recorded a four-point night with two goals and two assists, including a penalty shot tally, as the Devils inched one step closer to locking up a playoff berth by defeating the New York Rangers 5-2, New Jersey’s sixth win in its last seven outings.
On a night which the Devils would have clinched a playoff spot with a win and a Florida defeat in regulation (the Panthers won in regulation against Nashville), it took New Jersey just 25 seconds from the opening face-off to get on the board, as Travis Zajac stuffed home a loose puck in front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for the perfect start.
After that, it was all Hall – with defenseman Will Butcher playing the role of supporting actor. On the power play, Hall put in a wrist shot past Lundqvist after a goalmouth scramble at 3:41 of the first for a 2-0 lead. The margin grew to three halfway though the period, with Butcher blasting home a slap shot from the right point off the far post and into the net for another power play play goal and a 3-0 lead. Just 10:40 into the contest, the competitive nature of the game was all but over.
But not for Hall. Assisting on Butcher’s first power play tally, he did so once more in the second, drawing a couple of defenders down to the corner before feeding Butcher at the left point. From there, Butcher had room to move in on Lundqvist before beating him with a wrist shot for a 4-1 New Jersey lead, the Devils’ third power play goal of the night.
Towards the end of the second period came the coup de grâce, as Hall was awarded a penalty shot after being hooked from behind by defenseman Brady Skjei while on a breakaway. Hall, after collecting his thoughts on the other end of the ice, sped towards Lundqvist like he was shot out of a cannon before firing a wrist shot above Henrik’s glove and into the net for a 5-1 lead.
Once he celebrated with his teammates on the bench and took a seat, and after the public address announced Hall’s name for a fourth time in the first 40 minutes, the unmistakable chant was reverberating inside the Prudential Center, for all media members voting on the end-of-season awards to hear all across North America.
“It’s not something I’m used to, to be honest,” Hall said in describing his reaction to the fans chanting. “As a player, and as I’ve gotten older, it’s become less and less about what I’m doing and how many points I’m getting and more how can I help the team. How can I contribute.”
In 75 games played this season, Hall now has 93 points – 39 goals and 54 assists. His 26-game point-scoring streak earlier in the season put him in the conversation for the game’s premier individual prize, the Hart Trophy. His last few games, when New Jersey has needed its biggest gun to step up the most in a final push to the postseason, Hall has responded; Hall has six goals in a current four-game goal-scoring streak and has 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) during a current nine-game point streak.
“If there’s anything I can take from this season that I’m proud of is coming through when the games matter,” Hall said. “That’s what you want to do as a player.”
Most impressive about Hall’s season, outside of the sheer volume of points, is that, for most of the season, his line mates have been two rookies – center Nico Hischier and right wing Jesper Bratt. While still young himself at 26, Hall has matured in his second season as a Devil and has become a leader in many aspects, something his head coach has pointed out when describing what he has meant to New Jersey’s renaissance.
“There’s lots of talk about [Hall] in Hart Trophy consideration and things like that. I think when you look at the impact this guy’s had on our team, on the organization and where we’re at, it can’t be even close,” said Hynes. “He’s played with two rookies, he’s played with Kyle [Palmieri] when he’s been out there. The consistency level that he’s played with throughout the year and driving our team, night in and night out and throughout the year, has been exceptional.
“I’ve said all along that it’s great for our organization that you have a guy like Taylor Hall, whose one of the elite players in the league, who’s maturing and who wants to be an elite player,” Hynes continued. “The thing that’s become really special about him is he’s such a culture driver. This guy cares about the team, he’s a great teammate, extremely coachable. He’s on board with what’s going on, and [the] desire and competitiveness to help us continue to grow our organization and be a competitive team is driven by him.”
Hall is focused on making sure the Devils secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2012, when New Jersey made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final that season. But, just for a moment, Hall did take a step back, momentarily, to mention how appreciative he is for the run that he has been on and the thousands who continue to sing his praises almost every time he steps onto the ice for each shift.
“It’s been a lot of fun to come and play in front of this crowd. It feels like they’ve really embraced me as a player and it’s a great feeling,” Hall said. “That’s something you’ll remember all your life is being on the bench after a goal and hearing MVP chants. It’s really cool. It’s awesome.”