Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Leadership of Ladd again is the key

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They needed him in the start. They needed him in the middle. They needed him in the end. Andrew Ladd was there each and every time. He's your captain. He's your best player. In many ways, he's the Winnipeg Jets.

Ladd got his Jets on the board first, helped on his team's second goal, scored their third and final marker in regulation and then popped the silencer in the shootout as Winnipeg took a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Ladd's performance was both heroic and effective. The heroism is nice but at this time of the year it's the result that matters most and Ladd made sure his work counted for something.

He was a bull, he was a safecracker but most of all he was a winner. The Jets can't live on anything but the blood of wins right now. Ladd gave them a super-oxygenated transfusion like only he has been able to this season.

Over the last four games, all of them wins for the Jets, Ladd has collected eight points and been at his very best.

If the Jets advance into the post-season, much of it will be because Andrew Ladd has had the season of his career. With 18 goals and 23 assist, Ladd now has 41 points in 43 games and is the Jets' leading scorer by a long shot. He's been consistent on a team that sometimes has been unable to spell the word, let alone live it.

There has been no wavering in Ladd. He's led from post to post and done it all.

When he's skating and hitting, he's almost always scoring. On those nights, the Jets have their best chance of winning.

When Ladd can't get it going, the Jets might has well stay in the dressing room. He has been that good and, as a result, that important.

Lots was said last season about the Winnipeg Jets not having a legitimate NHL first line. Maybe they still don't but they sure as hell have a first-line left-winger. Ladd could skate with any top line in the NHL. He's a complete player with both teeth and touch in his game.

Tuesday night, the Jets needed a win to keep their tottering playoff hopes upright. Ladd delivered with two goals and an assist in regulation and then ended the shootout swooping in on Tampa Bay goalie Ben Bishop before scoring and pulling his teammates off the bench and the crowd out of their seats.

Pull is the correct verb where Ladd is concerned as he's pulled the Jets along all season. Coach Claude Noel has said it again and again. Ladd is the driver. The force behind the Jets.

Ladd is everything to the Jets. He brings offence, power and leadership to the office. He also brings timing, rising to the occasion when the Jets need him most.

Make no mistake, a loss on Tuesday would have put the Jets in a terrible hole with just five games left on the schedule. Instead, they stand even with the New York Rangers with 46 points wrestling for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. The Rangers hold it today by virtue of playing one game less than the Jets but there's no guarantee they'll win that game in hand.

Winnipeg is in a far better position today than it was Tuesday and Andrew Ladd was the catalyst and the finisher in this latest turn of events.

The Jets still find themselves in a tough spot and likely need four wins out of five games to end the regular season with a pass to the playoffs. Maybe they'll get there and maybe they won't.

But they wouldn't be where they are without Ladd and they won't get any further without him.

Want to know what will happen to the Jets? Follow Ladd. He's the leader.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 D1

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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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