Eliminator handcuffed

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

One week ago, Andrew Ladd's playoff stock was soaring sky-high.

With four game-winning goals bulging his Calgary Hitmen portfolio, Ladd was playing like a can't-miss blue-chipper.

In his first seven playoff games -- including against Lethbridge in the first round and the first two games against Brandon -- Ladd amassed seven goals and three assists.

It seemed everything he touched turned to goals.

Then came the playoff stock market crash, which started last Tuesday and still appears to be in a tailspin.

Ladd has but one assist in the last four games as his squad heads into Game 7 of the WHL Eastern Conference semifinal tonight in Brandon (6 p.m., The Fan 960, Shaw TV).

The power forward is the first to admit his goal-scoring production has plummeted but Ladd knows how to get out of the red and into the black.

"The goals haven't really come but I think it's a case of needing to get more gritty as a team, myself included, and being more committed to getting to the net and getting those rebounds," said the Maple Ridge, B.C., product from his hotel room in Brandon.

"Tyler Plante (the Wheat Kings' rookie netminder) makes the first save but he's a goalie that does give up some rebounds.

"But they've been doing a good job of clearing the net."

That was especially true in Game 6, a 3-1 Brandon victory at the Saddledome on Monday night.

The Wheat Kings played their most inspired defensive contest of the series, limiting Calgary to just 15 shots through the first two periods.

Calgary poured it on in the final frame, sending 18 pucks Plante's way but didn't find the back of the net until defenceman Jeff Schultz scored with eight ticks left on the clock -- far too little and much too late.

Ladd, 19, was impressed with the Wheaties' defensive effort, noting he and his teammates can't leave anything on the ice when the final horn sounds later tonight.

"They did a pretty good job and it's going to come down to whoever's the most desperate team," said the Carolina Hurricanes fourth overall NHL draft pick in 2004.

"We've got to battle to get pucks on net and being willing to compete to get those pucks is going to be a big thing for us."

As for not scoring in four games, Ladd insists he's not gripping the stick too tightly.

"No, I've just gotta keep working at it, keep throwing the puck on net and eventually it's going to go in," said the easy-going 6-ft. 2-in., 202-pounder.

Hockey's a funny game --sometimes the lamest of shots will go in, while the perfect one-time pass will hop over a stick.

Pundits call those the bounces and they're as much a part of the game as sticks and skates.

"Sometimes you get them and sometimes you don't," said Ladd, who is minus-1 in the series.

"But you've got to work for those sometimes and we're going to have to be a desperate team tomorrow and be willing to compete."


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