WINNIPEG — Captain Blake Wheeler celebrated a rare milestone with style on Monday.
Playing his 500th game for the Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise, Wheeler scored once and added a pair of assists in a 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild. Linemates centre Mark Scheifele and left winger Kyle Connor also each had a goal and two assists as the Jets scored seven straight goals to rebound from a two-goal deficit.
"It goes fast," Wheeler said of the 500 games. "It's crazy. It feels like yesterday we were still in the first season here. That being said, we've spit out three kids in those 500 games here.
"It's crazy how much life changes and I've been blessed with such a great opportunity here to play with great players and I'm grateful for the opportunity I've been given here. It looks like there are some fun times ahead of us so the future looks good."
Wheeler was traded to Atlanta from Boston in February 2011 and played 23 games with the new club. The Thrashers were then bought and moved to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season. He's played 721 NHL career games.
Winnipeg's thumping of the Central Division-rival Wild included seven different scorers rounded out by Joel Armia, Jacob Trouba, Mathieu Perreault and Bryan Little. Armia also had an assist.
Connor Hellebuyck made 17 saves for the Jets (15-6-3), who've won four straight at Bell MTS Place. Winnipeg is also unbeaten in regulation in its last eight games at home (7-0-1).
The Jets 15th win in 24 games was the quickest in franchise history.
Jason Zucker and Chris Stewart supplied the offence for Minnesota (11-10-3). Alex Stalock played the entire game and stopped 21 shots for the Wild.
"They just scored on their chances. That happens," Stalock said.
He wasn't surprised he stayed in for the whole game.
"No. It was my game," he said. "I got to start and any time you want to finish it."
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he didn't think Stalock was the lone culprit so he didn't replace him with Devon Dubnyk.
"Once they started (scoring) in the third our (backup) goalie had been sitting on the bench for two hours," Boudreau said of Dubnyk, the regular starter. "I'm not going to put a guy in for the last 10 minutes when you know you're not going to win the game. He might pull a groin or a hamstring trying to make a save to help his teammates. It didn't make any sense to me."
Minnesota jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. Winnipeg's barrage began with a goal by Armia and then Scheifele on the power play in the final six minutes of the opening frame.
Zucker extended his point streak to four games after the Wild took advantage of a turnover just outside Minnesota's blue line by Winnipeg defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. Three Wild players reversed direction and Zucker's backhand beat Hellebuyck at 8:01, giving him two goals and two assists during his point run.
Minnesota had a goal by Zack Mitchell overturned by a coach's challenge after Charlie Coyle was deemed offside, but the Wild netted one for good just over a minute later when Stewart made it 2-0 at 13:54.
"From about the 13-minute mark of the first period, we just quit playing," Boudreau said. "It's easy to say we're going to watch the video, but it's a compete level.
"Once the Jets started to play a little bit better it was like 'woe is me' and we didn't compete against them."
Perreault was feeling good about being part of a fourth line that's clicking with Armia and centre Matt Hendricks.
"On the board we're a fourth line, but on the ice we certainly don't feel like a fourth line," Perreault said. "We feel like we can produce every night and outplay every match we have on other team's fourth line so I think it's a great matchup."
Winnipeg travels for a game against Colorado on Wednesday. Minnesota hosts Vegas on Thursday.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press