LAS VEGAS -- Taylor Hall didn't think of himself as a Hart Trophy candidate until the fans at Prudential Center started chanting "MVP" in his direction in the second half of the season.
"I just kept trying to play and I thought if we made the [Stanley Cup Playoffs], maybe I'd get nominated, but it wasn't really a big focal point to me," the New Jersey Devils left wing said.
The fans were dead on.
[Hall of Devils wins Hart Trophy as NHL MVP | Complete NHL Awards coverage]
Hall became the first Devils player to win the Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player at the 2018 NHL Awards presented by Hulu at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Wednesday, edging Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon.
Hall, who was sixth in the NHL with a career-high 93 points (39 goals, 54 assists), 41 more than his next closest teammate, received 72 of the 164 first-place votes and finished with 1,264 voting points. MacKinnon, who was fifth with 97 points (39 goals, 58 assists), received 60 first-place votes and 1,194 voting points.
It was the closest race for the Hart Trophy since 2012-13, when Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin defeated Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby by 32 voting points (1,090-1,058).
"There's been a lot of hard work and dedication from myself, from my parents, from my teammates and the Devils organization for believing in me," Hall said. "It's a very cool night. The award truly could have went to anyone. I just took a peak at how close the voting was, it really was a true three-horse race, so honored to be up here."
Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar finished third behind Hall and MacKinnon with 11 first-place votes and 551 voting points. Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux was fourth with 10 first-place votes and 546 points.
Video: Taylor Hall is presented the Hart Memorial Trophy
"Taylor had a hell of a season, so did [MacKinnon]," Kopitar said. "It really was anybody's. Taylor deservingly got it and congrats to him."
In addition to becoming the first Devils player to win it, Hall is the first player awarded the Hart Trophy after being traded by the team that drafted him since Joe Thornton (selected by Boston Bruins, traded to San Jose Sharks) in 2005-06.
Hall was selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft and acquired by New Jersey for Adam Larsson on June 29, 2016.
This season, the Devils made the playoffs for the first time since 2012 after a 27-point improvement in the standings. It was also Hall's first taste of the postseason after his teams failed to qualify in his first seven NHL seasons.
"It's not something that I really ever had a goal in mind [to win]," Hall said. "It's always been playoffs and Stanley Cup. As the season went on, you know it might be a possibility and it's really out of your hands, to be honest. … In saying that, I'm very proud to be standing up here with the trophy."
Video: Hall on NHL Awards, playing with Nico Hischier
Hall said he couldn't recall the first time he heard the "MVP" chants that became commonplace by the end of the season at Prudential Center, but he vividly remembers how loud they were during a game against the Vegas Golden Knights on March 4, when he had a goal and an assist to extend his personal point streak to 25 games in a 3-2 loss. His point streak ended at 26 games.
"That was a cool game for us," Hall said. "It was a Sunday night game, Vegas, a fast team and a sold-out crowd. I heard some chants and it got me pretty fired up."
Being fired up wasn't hard for Hall this season. He said his motivation started in the offseason, when he read and heard pundits criticizing him and the Devils, writing them off as non-contenders before the puck even dropped.
"So proud and so happy for him," said Devils center Brian Boyle, who won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for his perseverance and dedication to hockey on Wednesday. "He has turned himself into such a leader. He's a young guy in the League still and for how good he is, he still had to overcome things. He got [traded] as the No. 1 pick at a young age. All I know is the Hallsy I saw this year and what I've seen when I played against him, and he was always a competitor, a great player, a hard guy to play against when I played against him. This year, he just elevated every part of his game. In the room, what he did, how he led us, is why we got to where we got to. He was so valuable to us. I don't know where we would have been without him. We're happy he's on our team."
Hall credited his teammates for pushing him, particularly rookie center Nico Hischier, who finished second on the Devils with 52 points (20 goals, 32 assists).
"I was a good player for a long time. I feel what really brought me to the next level was being in Jersey, playing with my teammates, drafting Nico No. 1 overall, getting to play with him as a centerman all season long," Hall said. "Probably the biggest reason I'm up here today is No. 13 on my team and the trust that [general manager] Ray Shero and [coach] John Hynes have put in me. Honored to represent them as a group."
Video: Taylor Hall on winning the Hart Trophy