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Jets take flight into playoffs

Stanley Cup Odds (As of April 6):

Winnipeg Jets (12.00)

The 'Whiteout' is about to return to Winnipeg.

For only the second time since returning to Manitoba, to tremendous excitement from fans in 2011-12, the Jets are returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs, where they will face the Minnesota Wild in the opening round.

Except they're not simply returning to the playoffs, just happy to be part of the festivities.

No. The Jets have been in a months-long battle with the reigning Western Conference champions from Nashville for top spot in the Central

Division. In the end, the Predators clinched the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular season team, while the Jets hit the 112-point mark and had won four in a row prior to Saturday's game.

Their rise in the Central Division, coupled with the downfall of a previous powerhouse in the Chicago Blackhawks, has put the Jets in the conversation among the Stanley Cup favourites for a good portion of the season.

The Jets have odds of 12.00 to win it all, as of Friday, which currently puts them on par with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.

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The Predators and Tampa Bay Lightning were, as of Friday, co-favourites to win the Stanley Cup with odds of 6.00, with the playoffs set to begin April 11.

Last June, following the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Winnipeg's odds to win it all this year stood at 55.00. That price moved to 45.00 in October at the beginning of the season, but shifted substantially by the middle of November and has moved between 18.00 and 10.00 ever since.

For years, the Jets have been building their roster with young, talented and versatile players.

They've done so through the draft, whether it's been their numerous first-round picks that have turned into cornerstone players - like Patrik Laine, who is well over the 40-goal mark this season at age 19 and should, one would think, hit 50 goals next season -- or finding value with selections in later rounds like third-round selection Adam Lowry, fourth-round pick Andrew Copp, or goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

For years, an increasingly talented team in Winnipeg fell victim to a weakness in net. They even went out last summer and signed veteran Steve Mason, who had a disastrous debut in October and quickly turned over the starting duties to the 24-year-old Hellebuyck, who has played in 66 games - a single-season career high - and posted a career-best .923 save percentage.

There have been a few surprises this season, when it comes to the Stanley Cup favourites. No one - absolutely no one - would've believed the expansion Vegas Golden Knights would keep on winning throughout their first season, not only making the playoffs but sitting with odds of 8.50 to win it all. Only the Lightning, Predators and Boston Bruins sit ahead of Vegas in the Stanley Cup odds.

The Bruins are another surprise in the East.

With the influx of young talent, it was only a matter of time before the Jets emerged as a serious force in the Central Division and the Western Conference. Now, can they take the next step? The Wild will pose a challenge in the first round, but barring any shocking upsets, the Jets will almost certainly have to go through the Predators to win the West.

Bettors have taken notice of the Jets' takeoff season. Excitement has been building, particularly in Manitoba with 74.4 per cent of the overall money wagered on Winnipeg to win the Stanley Cup coming from players in that province. In B.C., 25.6 per cent of the overall money has been placed on the Jets to win it all.

Winnipeg hockey fans have always been known for their unrelenting passion. Just imagine what it might feel like if the Jets go on a prolonged playoff run.

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