UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Taylor Hall calls the offensive end of the rink “the fun zone.” Based on how he has played in his brief Bruins career, he seems to be enjoying life anywhere his skates take him.
In Game 3 of this second-round series against the Islanders Thursday, Hall was everywhere, again. His assist on Craig Smith’s opening goal came after he swiped the puck from the Islanders’ most dangerous player, Mathew Barzal, in the neutral zone. When he was on the ice at five-on-five, the Bruins racked up 15 shots on goal, and allowed zero, according to Natural Stat Trick.
“I didn’t know that, but that’s great,” Hall said. “That’s something that has to continue. When we’re out there, we don’t want to play in our zone. We want to exit as soon as possible.”
For the entire postseason, the Hall-David Krejci-Craig Smith line is outshooting opponents, 52-28, with a 24-7 edge in high-danger attempts. Their dominance as a second line has eased the burden on the first trio, and led to boatloads of offense.
Per NST, seven of the top 12 players in on-ice expected goals are Bruins, with Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, David Pastrnak, and Krejci rounding out the top four. Brad Marchand (eighth), Hall (ninth), and Patrice Bergeron (12th) are right behind them.
The Islanders, Hall said, want to “go low to high, get a point shot, look for tips and rebounds.” As a winger, the onus is on him to keep them to the outside. He wants to make sure that part of his game is consistent, in case the offense dries up.
“I think early on I didn’t realize he’s a 200-foot player in terms of his backchecking, willingness to break up a play,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s done that a number of times for us. He can really cover ice. He’s been excellent at that, not quitting on plays, coming back into our end to help keep the puck out of our net.
“When you watch a player on another team, especially a high-end guy, you’re usually looking at what he’s doing with the puck, not without it, so that part has been great for us. I don’t know if ‘surprised’ is the right word. I’m pleased.”
Hall said he didn’t always have the right answers defensively in Edmonton, but he took on defensive responsibility in New Jersey.
“That was how we had to play as a team,” he said. “Being one of the better players on the team, that was my way of leading, was to play a 200-foot game.
“It’s never going to be perfect, but I have a pretty good skill set to do that at the other end of the rink. I can chase guys down in the neutral zone and make their life hard. In the D-zone, I can close quick on my D-man and make good plays on the wall. That’s all I really try to do.
“Since I’ve gotten here, our team plays a really good defensive style and I’ve just had to adapt to that.”
In Foxborough, Patriots coach Bill Belichick met the media for his post-practice Zoom Friday wearing a Bruins hat, wishing Cassidy & Co. well after their OT win.
“Big congratulations to the Bruins and Coach Cassidy’s great win last night,” Belichick said. “Heck of a game, and it seems like they’ve all been. We’re behind them, and go B’s. They have a lot of big games coming up and we wish them well.
“Coach Cassidy has done a great job there and they have a lot of great players. I love their style of play. Just want to show our support.”
This is not a new friendship. Cassidy keeps in touch with Belichick, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and Celtics coach-turned-GM Brad Stevens, all of whom offered kudos after the Bruins advanced from their first-round series with the Capitals. Before a grinning Belichick waved the pregame fan banner for Game 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, he arrived early and spent time with Cassidy, discussing the art of motivation and player focus.
“I think it’s great that the teams are rooting for each other,” Cassidy said Friday. “I think it’s good competition for each team to have good playoff runs. I think it forces the other organizations to continue to excel. Obviously the Patriots have been the team that’s had the most success, and we want to follow in their footsteps and raise some banners as well.
“I really enjoy [Belichick’s] company. Nice of him to take time out and salute the Bruins. We appreciate it. Hopefully we can keep him happy.”
Cassidy cast a wary eye at an inquisitor who suggested the officials have called a good series, given the amount of physical play.
“Are you setting me up?” Cassidy joked.
He did see it that way, however.
“I think the Islanders play a clean, hard game. I’d put us in that category,” Cassidy said. “There’s always an incident here and there … but I think in general we’re known as an honest team, the Islanders are known as an honest team, and that’s what you’re getting.”
Of course, any coach will have his issues with the stripes. Cassidy wasn’t pleased to see Marchand and Pastrnak, “two of our elite players, [called for] retaliatory stick fouls, when it’s not too hard to watch [Jean-Gabriel] Pageau cross-check and slash Marshy coming to the bench, the exact same penalty.” He also would like to see two players, not one, called after jousting in a scrum.
None of the Bruins’ top six forwards have drawn a penalty from an Islander. The Bruins’ leaders are Nick Ritchie (three), Charlie Coyle (two), and Charlie McAvoy and Connor Clifton (one each). Seven Islanders have drawn one, led by Travis Zajac (two).
With regard to physicality, said Cassidy, “I do think the officials are doing a nice job in this series for the most part. But I also think the hits have been aboveboard and clean.”