The fans in Newark Monday night who’d been waiting six years to see playoff hockey again at The Rock haven’t been chanting Taylor Hall’s name lately. When they want to shower the Devils superstar with praise they scream “M-V-P” for the Hart Trophy candidate, whose spectacular season helped end New Jersey’s five-season playoff drought.
Hall was everything the Devils could’ve hoped for this season and on Monday in Game 3 against the Lightning, when he had a hand in the first three Devil goals in their 5-2 victory to cut the series deficit to 2-1.
The superlative left wing scored New Jersey’s first and assisted on the next two, setting up Stefan Noesen for the game-winner with 7:05 remaining. Hall did get called for tripping with 2:46 left but Blake Coleman and Ben Lovejoy scored empty-netters in the final minute. Cory Schneider, who started for the first time this series, made 34 saves.
New Jersey fell behind 2-1 just 38 seconds into the third period on Steven Stamkos’ power-play goal, the second straight period the Devils gave up a power-play goal in the opening minute on a penalty carried over from the previous period.
The Devils were quickly gifted a 5-on-3, however, with tripping and too-man-men infractions. Standout rookie defenseman Will Butcher cashed in to level the score at 4:03 of the third — with exiled Rangers Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and J.T. Miller as the three men defending for Tampa Bay.
The roof nearly blew off The Rock when Hall tied the game 1-1 at 12:24 of the second, and it was just what the Devils needed from their star after Alex Killorn’s power-play goal put the Lightning ahead just 42 seconds into the second period, and it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Hall got on the scoresheet. Hall rung a shot off the crossbar at 16:27 of the first and had a great chance from the left dot at 8:12 of the second denied by Andrei Vasilevskiy.
John Hynes shook up his lineup for this one, starting with putting Schneider back in goal after Keith Kinkaid, the backup who played well down the stretch and was the starter to open the playoffs, was yanked in the second period of Saturday’s Game 2 loss.
Schneider robbed McDonagh on a breakaway with his outstretched left skate near the midway point of the third and seconds later stopped a Tyler Johnson shot near the right post. Schneider was slow to get up as it appeared he was accidentally clipped by McDonagh, was checked out by a trainer and briefly skated to the bench before returning to his net to a chorus of “Co-ry” chants.
Marcus Johansson, who hadn’t played since Jan. 23 because of his second concussion of the season, finally returned and Michael Grabner, whom the Rangers sent across the Hudson before the trade deadline, was made a healthy scratch. Grabner, who had 25 goals in 59 games for the Rangers, had just two in 21 matches for the Devils.
Hynes pushed the right buttons, and because of his decisions and Hall’s huge night, the Devils are back in the series.