WINNIPEG—Captain Blake Wheeler celebrated a rare milestone with style last night.
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 Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor also each had a goal and two assists as the Jets scored seven-straight goals to rebound from an early 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,” he noted.
“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,” Wheeler added.
“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 then were bought and moved to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season.
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 now have won four-straight at Bell MTS Place.
Winnipeg also is 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 stopped 21 shots in taking the loss.
“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 stressed. "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 team's 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 noted.
"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.”
Zucker extended his point streak to four games after the Wild took advantage of a turnover just outside Minnesota's blueline by Winnipeg defenceman Dustin Byfuglien.
Three Wild players reversed direction and Zucker's backhand beat Hellebuyck at 8:01 of the first, 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,” he stressed.
“Once the Jets started to play a little bit better, it was like 'woe is me' and we didn't compete against them.”
Perreault, meanwhile, 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,” he 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.”
Elsewhere in the NHL, Montreal beat Columbus 3-1, Chicago dumped Anaheim 7-3, Florida edged New Jersey 3-2, and Pittsburgh topped Philadelphia 5-4 (OT).