To hear Bryan Little tell it, Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd probably has a sore back.
Ladd did the heavy lifting on Tuesday, scoring twice in regulation and adding the shootout winner as Winnipeg slipped by the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 to stay in the Eastern Conference's playoff picture.
"He's our leader in the dressing room and he leads us on the ice," said Little, who assisted on Ladd's first goal. "He really took tonight serious. He went out there and put us on his back and he did a great job.
"When he's going, I think he's one of the better players in the league."
Blake Wheeler scored once and picked up two assists, while defenceman Zach Bogosian added a pair of assists for the Jets (22-19-2), who are riding a season-high four-game winning streak. Ladd also had an assist.
Martin St. Louis, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and Steven Stamkos — with his 27th goal of the season — scored for Tampa (17-22-4).
Jets centre Mike Santorelli also beat Ben Bishop in the shootout, while no Tampa skaters got one by Ondrej Pavelec.
'He's our leader in the dressing room and he leads us on the ice. He really took tonight serious. He went out there and put us on his back and he did a great job. When he's going, I think he's one of the better players in the league.' —Jets forward Bryan Little on Andrew Ladd's leadership
Winnipeg's 46 points puts it in a tie with the Rangers for eighth spot in the Eastern Conference after New York lost 4-2 to Philadelphia on Tuesday. The Rangers have a game in hand over the Jets.
Winnipeg held a 3-1 lead heading into the third period, but Labrie scored after a scramble in front of the net following a Pavelec rebound at 5:19. Stamkos then came in at Pavelec and beat the goaltender on the stick side at 11:17.
Pavelec made 24 saves and Bishop stopped 32 shots for Tampa.
"You don't want to give up a 3-1 lead in the third period, but they have some guys at the top of goal scoring in the NHL and a guy that can hurt you," said Ladd. "Maybe we played a little too passive instead of staying on our toes and playing in their end, but at the end of the day we had two goals in the shootout and got our two points so we'll take it and move on."
Ladd is on a five-game point streak with four goals and five assists.
Santorelli, picked up on waivers from Florida on trade deadline day, scored the first goal in the shootout after Wheeler was stopped.
Teddy Purcell and Richard Panik took the turns for Tampa.
"That's the coach. I'm not worried about that right now," Stamkos said when asked if his absence from the shootout was planned.
Even though Tampa is close to being mathematically out of the playoffs, there's pride on the bench, Stamkos said.
"For the second half of the game we showed a lot of character and that's a trait of our team," said Stamkos. "We never give up no matter what. By no means are we gonna pack it in the last five games of the year. We're trying to win as many games and get as many points as we can and finish the year off strong."
Winnipeg used a four-day break — its longest of the season — to jump out to a fast start.
After Tampa defenceman Eric Brewer turned over the puck near centre ice, Wheeler carried it up the ice and made a drop pass to Ladd inside the blue-line.
|Eastern Conference playoff race|
|1. y - Pittsburgh||6||64||29|
|2. x - Montreal||6||57||23|
|7. N.Y. Islanders||5||49||19|
|8. N.Y. Rangers||6||46||17|
|y - clinched division, x - clinched playoff spot|
Ladd skated toward Bishop and fired a low shot between his pads to take the lead 1-0 at 1:23.
A Winnipeg turnover tied the game 1-1 at 10:27.
Behind Winnipeg's net with the puck, Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey sent a backhand pass that missed his teammate and went right to St. Louis's stick in the left faceoff circle. A quick shot beat Pavelec.
A patient Wheeler put the Jets ahead 2-1 at 8:37 of the second period.
After getting a pass from Ladd to the left of the net, Wheeler skated slowly across the front of the net and then shot the puck back from a sharp angle over Bishop for his 16th goal of the season.
Winnipeg looked like it scored again about four minutes later on a long shot from defenceman Grant Clitsome, but the referee waved off the goal because Ladd was interfering with Bishop.
Ladd made up for it late in the period as the Jets had two seconds left on a power play when he beat a partially screened Bishop at 17:54 with a wrist shot.
The Jets had four shots on net in overtime against Tampa's pair.