Somewhere along the way they changed.
The transformation was not instantaneous. No switch was flipped. No fingers were snapped.
Time simply passed, and as it did David Legwand and Martin Erat simply aged.
Yet it seems sudden that they are two of the older, more experienced players on the Nashville Predators’ roster. That’s exactly what they are, though, and their play in recent weeks reflects the value of all the years they have spent with the organization that drafted and patiently developed them.
“They’re the older guys now through injuries what have you,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re the front-line guys, and they’ve done a terrific job of stepping up, meeting the challenge head-on and really showcasing what they’re capable of doing — offensively and defensively.
“I’m really happy with them. They probably don’t get enough credit.”
Currently Nashville has eight forwards 29 or older on the NHL roster, but Steve Sullivan (36 years old) and Matthew Lombardi (29) have been injured and unavailable for the recent playoff drive or longer. J-P Dumont (33) has been scratched more often than not.
Legwand, therefore, is one of four regulars who are 30 or older. Erat is fewer than five months from his 30th birthday.
With three games remaining in the regular season, Erat has a team-high 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists). More than one-third of those points — 17, to be exact — have come in the last 17 games. Not once during that stretch has he gone back-to-back contests without at least one point.
Legwand has 18 points over the last 18 games, despite the fact that he has been scoreless in the last three. That accounts for 44 percent of his offense for the season.
Each of them has finished with a negative plus-minus rating four times over that stretch.
Their recent production is similar to last season’s playoff series against Chicago, when Legwand and Erat finished first and second on the team in scoring.
With seven points (two goals, five assists) Legwand joined Dumont and Paul Kariya as the only Nashville players ever to average more than a point per game in a playoff series. Erat was second with five points, including four goals, which tied the franchise record for a single playoff year.
“I think [experience] helps,” Legwand said. “I’m used to being around, being able to manage the puck a little bit in the game. It’s so important at this time of year to be able to do those things. When you can manage the game, it makes the game easier.”
Even at the most difficult time of year.
• There was good news on the injury front Mondy as Sullivan, Cal O’Reilly and Jordin Tootoo all skated during the workout.
Sullivan has not played since Feb. 24 because of a groin injury, and O’Reilly has been out since early January with a broken leg. Tootoo missed the last game with an upper body injury.
Sullivan and O’Reilly are not expected to return to the lineup soon.
“We'll see how it plays out,” Trotz said. “Right now we're going to play the group that's been playing and get [Sullivan] as fit as he can and go from there. I think when he comes in, I'm pretty sure that anyone who comes in after a long, lengthy injury ... the best-case scenario will be on the fourth line.”
• After weeks of critical contests that figured prominently in the playoff chase, the Predators play their final non-conference game Tuesday, when they host the Atlanta Thrashers.
Nashville is 9-4-4 against Eastern Conference foes this season.
“I’ve challenged the guys, ‘Let’s finish as high as we can here,’” Trotz said. “We still can finish with 101 points. That can put us in the No. 4 or 5 seed pretty easily. … We just have to make sure we’re on top of our game and just collect as many points.”
• The television broadcasts of the next two games (Tuesday against Atlanta and Friday against Columbus) have been moved from Fox Sports-Tennessee to SportSouth (Comcast Chs. 26 and 284) in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville and Tri-Cities.