Taylor Hall has already made a big difference for the Boston Bruins since he was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres on April 12.
The New York Islanders are aware the left wing could be the difference maker for the Bruins in their Stanley Cup Second Round series, which opens with Game 1 in Boston on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, TVAS).
“Obviously, he’s a player that we’re going to have to key on a little bit, just be aware of where he is on the ice because he’s a gamebreaker,” Islanders center Mathew Barzal said Friday.
The Islanders saw up close how much Hall has transformed the Bruins in their three regular-season games against them after the trade. Boston won all three with its revamped second line of Hall (four goals), center David Krejci (five assists) and right wing Craig Smith (two goals) combining for 11 points (six goals, five assists).
“I think bringing a Taylor Hall at the trade deadline, that gave them a resurgence,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “And Taylor came in and that line clicked for whatever reason and they started producing and I think that just eased everything off with their team.”
New York last saw Hall in a 3-2 overtime loss in its regular-season finale on May 10. Hall scored twice, including a highlight-reel goal 2:53 into overtime. Hall raced wide around Islanders forward Casey Cizikas on the left wing before cutting into the slot, sliding the puck between defenseman Nick Leddy‘s legs and chipping a backhand across-the-grain shot past goalie Ilya Sorokin‘s blocker.
“It’s a little bit deceptive because he’s a powerful skater that doesn’t look always like he’s moving that fast and really he’s flying, so it doesn’t take him long to get by guys,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s also very strong on his skates and he has strong hands on his stick, so he gets whacked there and he doesn’t lose the puck. That’s what’s made him good in this league for a long time … and hopefully that’s what happens against this defense, where he does back people off eventually where they respect his speed so much that they lose their gap and now all of a sudden some plays open up in front of the D and you get a little more ice to work with.”
The Islanders won all five regular-season games against the Bruins before they acquired Hall, outscoring them 18-8. But those Bruins relied heavily on their top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The addition of Hall and his connection with Krejci and Smith made them a more difficult team to defend.
With Hall scoring 14 points (eight goals, six assist), Krejci 21 (six goals, 15 assists) and Smith 10 (five goals, five assists), Boston went 12-4-1 after the trade and increased from scoring 2.72 goals per game to 3.41 goals per game. That continued when the Bruins defeated the Washington Capitals in five games in the best-of-7 first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hall (two goals, one assist) and Smith (one goal, two assists) each scored three points, Krejci had two assists and Boston averaged 3.5 goals per game in the series.
“It turned them into a more dangerous team,” Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “They have that first line up front that everyone knows about. Everyone knows what they can do. But I think [Hall] gives them a little more scoring on the second line.”
A big reason the Islanders were able to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in the first round was their ability to contain the top line of Jake Guentzel (one goal, one assist), Sidney Crosby (one goal, one assist) and Bryan Rust (two goals, one assist). New York’s top defense pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock played an important role in that and undoubtedly will be pivotal against the Bruins.
But the threat of Hall, Krejci and Smith means the Islanders can’t focus simply on stopping Bergeron’s line.
“You look at our second pair and whatever line that’s out there has to do a really good job and has to respect what they can do because they’re very dangerous,” Trotz said. “They’ve got good complement pieces on both lines. They’ve got some speed on their first line. They’ve got some finish on their first line and they’ve got a very creative centerman on their second line. They’ve got some speed and a very creative centerman and they can do a lot of similar things.”