For his 30th birthday, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave Grant Marshall a new lease on life.
On March 10, in an apparent salary dump, the going-nowhere Blue Jackets traded the energetic winger to the New Jersey Devils, who were looking for depth in their push for a third Eastern Conference championship in four seasons.
All the Blue Jackets got in return was a conditional pick in the 2004 entry draft. The Devils might have picked up an inside track on the Stanley Cup.
Marshall, who had not scored a goal in 65 playoff games before April 26, has scored five in his last 12, among them a third-period goal Tuesday night in the Devils’ 3-0 victory over the Mighty Ducks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Marshall also assisted on the winner last Friday night in a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.
“I think it was a good pickup for us because he’s a hard-nosed player,” Devil Coach Pat Burns said of the trade-deadline deal that brought Marshall to New Jersey. “We needed somebody in the corners like that, to go in on the forecheck with [linemates Scott Gomez and Patrik Elias] and he’s done that.
“He’s an intimidating player too. He’ll get in there and finish his hits. He’s just completing it now by getting some big goals for us.”
Marshall helped the Dallas Stars win the Stanley Cup in 1999, but he didn’t play in the finals against the Buffalo Sabres after suffering a groin injury in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals against the Colorado Avalanche.
He played in the 2000 finals, but the Stars lost to the Devils.
Traded to the Blue Jackets in August 2001, he toiled for one of the NHL’s worst teams before the Devils came calling on the eve of the trade deadline.
“You always think you never want to get traded,” he said. “You get comfortable in places, but missing the playoffs for almost two years was frustrating. This is what we play for, the second season, and I’m just delighted to be a part of this great team. Hopefully, it will go a long way and I’ll be here for a while.”
His playoff drought lasted through a five-game first-round series against the Boston Bruins and one game into the conference semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning before he finally scored in a 3-2 Game 2 victory April 26.
“Marty was ribbing me because Marty had more [playoff] goals than I did,” Marshall said of goaltender Martin Brodeur, who scored a goal in a 1997 game against the Montreal Canadiens. “It was a little frustrating, but for the most part I thought I was playing pretty good. I thought I was doing my job.
“You always want to be rewarded with a goal, but the final outcome is the key. If you win, it doesn’t matter.”
All five of Marshall’s goals have been scored in victories.
His goal Tuesday gave the Devils a 2-0 lead with 14:26 to play and all but sewed up the victory for Brodeur, who made 16 saves in the shutout.
Elias set him up perfectly, gathering the rebound of his own shot and, with Duck goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere having lost sight of the puck, sliding it across to Marshall in the slot. Marshall ripped it into the wide-open net.
“Maybe I shouldn’t say this,” Marshall said afterward, grinning, “but I don’t think I’d miss too many of those. But you never know.”