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Red-hot Ladd scores twice for Jets in win over Devils

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG – Andrew Ladd's scorching production has allowed the Winnipeg Jets to survive their power play spending February in hibernation. Ladd continued his hot scoring in February, firing home two more goals against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night to lead the Jets to a 3-1 win before 15,015 at MTS Centre.

Ladd's second of the game with 8:01 to go in the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and helped the Jets break their four-game home losing streak. Ladd began his evening with a goal eight seconds into the contest and finished the month with 10 goals in 13 games.

Winnipeg's captain acknowledged the Jets had to grind out the win, but added "at the end of the day, you take the win, you take the two points and the good feeling and move on."

Ladd also had an assist on Blake Wheeler's empty-net goal with 35.8 seconds remaining. Ladd, whose 12 goals lead the Jets and tie him for third overall in the League, owns a pair of two-goal games and two three-point outings this season.

"I think that right now our team is certainly driven by him," Jets coach Claude Noel said of his captain. "He leads by example. He has won two [Stanley] Cups, and you can see why."

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec assumed the franchise goaltending lead in games, making his 205th appearance and stopping 22 shots for the Jets, who have a win in five of their past six contests to slide them into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Winnipeg moved above .500 for the first time since Jan. 31.

Noel praised Pavelec, who stopped Patrik Elias and Bobby Butler on point-blank opportunities in the first period, calling his goaltender's work "outstanding."

"I think he's in a good groove," Noel said. "I'm really happy with how he is playing."

The win continued the momentum the Jets had built during a 4-1-0 road trip that included a win at New Jersey on Sunday. Though the Jets may have rectified the road woes that torpedoed their Stanley Cup Playoff hopes last season, home life has frustrated Noel for much of the club's first 19 games -- Winnipeg had won three of its first eight home dates.

"It was good to have that," Noel said of regaining some of the home-ice advantage on which the Jets and their fans built a strong reputation around the League last season. "We were trying hard to get them involved with our play. It was good for us to be able to reward them.

"I thought it was a hard game to win. It was a difficult game that we had difficulty managing."

Andrei Loktionov supplied the only goal for the Devils, who have lost three in a row. Johan Hedberg made his third consecutive start in place of injured Martin Brodeur and made 18 saves.

Now the Devils will make the long trip eastward to Buffalo, where they will face the Sabres on Saturday afternoon in the middle game of a three-game trip. The Devils have one win over their past six games, and the three-game skid is their longest since they lost three games Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 2011.

"It's pretty frustrating," said David Clarkson, whose 10 goals lead the Devils. "It feels like we're chasing. We've got to find a way to get back to the way we play."

New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer lamented his club's scoring woes. The Devils have scored nine goals during a 1-4-1 slide that has pushed them down the Eastern Conference standings into seventh place.

"You want wins," DeBoer said. "That's the bottom line. We've got to find a way to get wins. I could stand up here all you want and tell you how some areas of our game are real good, but this comes down to getting two points, and we've got to find a way."

Coincidental minors after a skirmish between New Jersey's Steve Bernier and Winnipeg veteran Nik Antropov with 8:21 left in regulation set up 4-on-4 play. Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien lugged the puck from deep inside the Winnipeg zone all the way behind the goal line before moving a pass into Hedberg's crease that Ladd crammed inside the post.

"[Byfuglien] decided that we weren't going to overtime," Noel said.

Ladd sandwiched his heroics between a long stretch of quiet play. Both clubs staged a cautious first 40 minutes and headed into the second intermission with 13 shots apiece -- but the game had an explosive start.

A boisterous crowd greeted the Jets' return, and the home club responded immediately. Winnipeg defenseman Zach Bogosian slid a pass through the neutral zone that skittered to the New Jersey blue line, where Ladd took the puck, broke in and pushed a backhanded shot behind Hedberg at the eight-second mark.

Ladd's goal tied a franchise mark for a quickest goal to begin a game, and it was the fastest ever allowed by the Devils off the opening faceoff.

But after Ladd's goal, the Devils settled down the game, frustrating the Jets with strong play along the boards and closing off Winnipeg's passing options inside the neutral zone.

A pair of newly acquired New Jersey forwards evened the game 1-1 on the Devils' opening shot of the second period. Alexei Ponikarovsky, making his return to Winnipeg after a 12-game stint with the Jets, fed a pass to Loktionov, whom the Devils acquired from Los Angeles on Feb. 6. The 22-year-old snuck a snap shot behind Pavelec 3:05 into the period. Loktionov's goal nudged his point streak to four games.

"We settled down, started doing the right things," Hedberg said. "We just need some breaks here and there. Nobody is feeling sorry for us. We're the only ones that can change it. It's going to change."

One area that continues to plague the Jets is the power play. New Jersey began the evening ranked 25th in the NHL on the penalty kill, but the Devils easily shut down a unit that is buried in a 1-for-29 slump stretching over 11 games.

Winnipeg had an opportunity to go ahead after consecutive minors 1:04 apart put the Devils down 5-on-3 for 56 seconds late in the second period. But New Jersey did not surrender a shot during the two-man advantage and burned off both minors, including a late stretch after play returned to 5-on-4 in which two broken sticks left the Jets with a brief three-man advantage.

The Jets also needed the first 9:21 of the final period to register a shot on Hedberg.

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