Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Captain Ladd steering this ship

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Maybe it's unfair to load all the Winnipeg Jets' playoff hopes on the shoulders of Andrew Ladd.

It's also unfair some people lose their hair, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Bald people are bald and Andrew Ladd is the key to all things Winnipeg Jets right now.

Ladd will lead the Jets to the post-season or he won't. He can't be ordinary; he must be brilliant, which has certainly been proven possible.

With 14 goals and 32 points in 33 games, Ladd is having an all-star-calibre campaign. The argument was made last season that he was a second- or third-line player getting first-line minutes on a bad team. No more. He is legit, and by virtue of getting the Jets into third place in the Eastern Conference, he's making a case for the same to be said of his team.

There are other contributors, and lots of this can also be said about goalie Ondrej Pavelec. But Ladd is a catalyst at both ends of the ice and in the dressing room. Put it this way: If Ladd were to succumb to a season-ending injury, what would happen to the Jets? They'd quietly go away and plan for another season.

Ladd is Winnipeg's leading scorer, captain and best player. Head coach Claude Noel says Ladd "drives the team."

It's a pretty simple formula: When Ladd plays well, the Jets win, or at the very least have a chance to do so. When he doesn't, Winnipeg is lost and they lose.

Without Andrew Ladd playing, and playing at a high level, the Jets are out of the picture.

Winnipeg can be maddeningly inconsistent at times. Not Ladd. He's the only player on the team not to go more than one game in a row without a point. In Sunday night's 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, he was on the ice for all three of Winnipeg's goals, parked on the edge of the blue ice distracting goalie Cedrick Desjardins for the first two, then flipping an artful pass from the corner to Toby Enstrom for the eventual winner.

Ladd had some growl to his game and was also tenacious on defence, breaking up a number of scoring chances deep in the Jets zone.

Winnipeg needed to win on Sunday. Desperately. Ladd, who had been as sluggish as the rest of his team in a pair of back-to-back losses to the Washington Capitals this week, needed to be strong. He was and -- no surprise -- the Jets won.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 25, 2013 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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