Winnipeg Jets supporters have always known how to throw a downtown party.

This article was published 28/12/2018 (799 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg Jets supporters have always known how to throw a downtown party.

From the historic signing of Bobby Hull at Portage and Main way back on June 27, 1972, to Save the Jets rallies in the mid-'90s, to impromptu street-hockey games after the official announcement of the NHL's return in May, 2011, fans have massed downtown.

MARK HUMPHREY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES  </p><p>The Winnipeg Jets celebrate defeating the Nashville Predators 5-1 in Game 7 of the second round May 10, earning a trip to the Western Conference Championship.</p>

MARK HUMPHREY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

The Winnipeg Jets celebrate defeating the Nashville Predators 5-1 in Game 7 of the second round May 10, earning a trip to the Western Conference Championship.

And when the Jets finished the regular season as the second-best team in the National Hockey League and began their remarkable Stanley Cup playoff run in April, the crowds just outside the doors of Bell MTS Place grew larger with every game.

Thousands stood in the surrounding streets and watched on massive TV screens as the Jets soared past the Minnesota Wild and then ground down the Nashville Predators to advance to the Western Conference Final. Businesses across the city proudly displayed  Go Jets Go signs in their windows and workplaces all over the province were filled with jersey-wearing employees.

All the cool kids were Jets fans.

Those fortunate enough to obtain tickets to the on-ice action were treated to a level of sporting entertainment and euphoria not seen in these parts in decades.

Maybe ever.

And the combination of the team's sensational regular-season finish, their chase for the championship and the soaring spirit of Jets Nation has emerged as the Winnipeg Free Press news story of 2018.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Fans celebrate after Dustin Byfuglien scored against the Nashville Predators in the second round of the playoffs May 1.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Fans celebrate after Dustin Byfuglien scored against the Nashville Predators in the second round of the playoffs May 1.

Listen to what some of our readers had to say about the Jets' magical run:

"I'm not even close to being a hockey fan but even I was talking about it," wrote Mardie, who didn't provide her last name. "I've never watched a hockey game in my life, yet I did during the playoffs."

"Single biggest community event in the past decade," summed up Ron Arnst.

"It is hard not to pick this positive newsmaker. The enthusiastic and respectful fans represented Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada. The Jets story shows us all that with hard work and persistence dreams can become reality. Go Jets Go!" said Sue Ralph.

Alas, the dream of a Stanley Cup parade down Portage Avenue died during the afternoon of Sunday, May 20 with a 2-1 loss to the upstart Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Buoyed by the stunning, acrobatic goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas captured the best-of-seven conference final, winning four straight games after the Jets took the series opener.

"It was (the Golden Knights') time; they're just playing really well and you have to give them all the credit," Jets captain Blake Wheeler told reporters after the game.

"Typically, in a seven-game series, the better team wins. Coming into it, I thought we had the best team. I felt that way and obviously I'm a little bit biased, standing in this room feeling that we had a great opportunity.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES </p><p>The fans were here even if the Jets weren't: cheers go up at a viewing party after the Jets eliminated the Predators in Game 7 on May 10.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

The fans were here even if the Jets weren't: cheers go up at a viewing party after the Jets eliminated the Predators in Game 7 on May 10.

"They made it really tough for us. We had to work for everything we got and even when we broke them down, we just couldn't seem to ever gain the type of momentum we needed to get this thing on our terms."

But what a sensational season it was for the Central Division squad, constructed by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the rest of his management and scouting team, and led by head coach Paul Maurice and his staff.

The lows were relatively few, although armchair experts likely condemned anyone associated with the True North ownership group for the team's 0-2 start following terrible performances against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames in early October 2017.

But the team found its groove and won seven of its next 10 games, including an overpowering 7-1 triumph over Sidney Crosby and the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 29.

At the end of the regular season, Winnipeg posted a glitzy 52-20-10 record to finish behind only the Predators in the division, conference and league standings. No other team protected the home front like the Jets, who went 32-7-2 at the downtown arena.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES </p><p>As the party grew, as many as 35,000 fans filled the streets around Bell MTS Place.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

As the party grew, as many as 35,000 fans filled the streets around Bell MTS Place.

Individually, Wheeler had a super year, although he began to fade from the Hart Trophy conversation for league MVP as the second half of the season progressed. The talented right-winger finished ninth in league scoring with 91 points, while defining himself as one of the NHL's premier playmakers by tying Philadelphia's Claude Giroux for the league lead in assists (68).

Patrik Laine, meanwhile, was in the hunt for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer but finished with 44, five behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin. Nikolaj Ehlers set a career high with 29 goals, and Kyle Connor fired 31 to lead all NHL rookies.

Between the pipes, Connor Hellebuyck grabbed the reins as the Jets' starting goalie and was nothing short of brilliant. He won 44 games, tying him with Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy for most in the NHL. His 30 wins at home tied an NHL record as well.

Hellebuyck posted a 2.36 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and six shutouts, and finished second in the Vezina Trophy voting for the NHL's top goalie behind Nashville's Pekka Rinne.

In Round 1 of the post-season, the Jets finally exercised some demons, hammering the visiting Wild 5-0 on April 20 to win the best-of-seven playoff series 4-1 — a monumental first for the franchise. It also came 31 years after Jets 1.0 dumped the Calgary Flames 4-2 in a first-round, best-of-seven series.

JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES <p />

Mikaela Kroeker poses with Queen Elizabeth II (also known as Cam Scott) during the Jets' Whiteout street party on May 20.

JESSICA BOTELHO-URBANSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Mikaela Kroeker poses with Queen Elizabeth II (also known as Cam Scott) during the Jets' Whiteout street party on May 20.

That set up a second-round meeting with the powerhouse Predators. And what a series it was, as the teams split the first six before the Jets put in a near-perfect performance on a grand stage in Music City, dumping Nashville 5-1 in Game 7.

"It’s huge. It was an awesome series," said top-line centre Mark Scheifele, who led all shooters in the playoffs with 14 goals in 17 contests. "I think (the Predators are) an unbelievable team. They just battled to the end. We’re definitely happy that we came out on top. You know, it was fun hockey.... Top to bottom, they’re so solid. And we think we’re pretty good, too. It was a fight to the end, as you saw."

The scars of that battle — the blood and sweat that it took to prevail — left little in the tank when Winnipeg faced the Golden Knights, who went on to the Cup final, eventually losing to Ovechkin and the Capitals.

But Manitobans won't soon forget the celebration surrounding the Jets' storybook 2017-18 season.

"It was so special to see, and it sure put Winnipeg on the map across the world," said Free Press reader Liz Bernard.

And this from a commenter using the handle Harper 73: "Nothing else lifted the spirits of the province like that playoff run. It was magical, beyond sport... and permeated the entire community."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca  

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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