Mired in a personal 14-game drought, the Columbus captain scored a power-play tally to tie it 7:16 into the contest, struck at even strength 41 seconds into the second period and flipped in an empty-netter with 28.8 seconds remaining to complete the hat trick.
“First ever, can you believe that?” asked Whitney, the Blue Jackets’ lone All-Star. “I was fortunate to get it, too. You know with Marshy (Grant Marshall) diving and hitting the side of the net (in the final minute) and having to get the second chance at it.”
Mike Sillinger registered a career-high three assists and Marshall added a pair as Columbus snapped its longest losing streak of the season. The Blue Jackets were outscored, 32-5, during the slide.
“We had some trouble scoring some goals, let’s face it,” Sillinger said. “Not only that, but we had a tough time keeping them out of our net. Tonight was a big win for our hockey club.”
Whitney’s eventual game-winner was the Columbus’ first even-strength goal in eight games.
Former Blue Jacket Steve Heinze got the opener for Los Angeles just 1:42 into the game, but the Kings finished a 2-3-0 road trip and remained five points behind Edmonton for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
“I think we let one slip away,” Heinze said. “That’s a team we should beat. Everyone knows how important the points are now. We’re (mad), but we have to get ready for the next game.”
Heinze also expressed nothing but admiration for Whitney.
“He’s a great player,” Heinze said. “He’s a world-class player that can make the plays and score the goals. He certainly did that tonight.”
Whitney’s first hat trick came after 22 career two-goal performances. He had not registered a multi-goal game since November 29 against the New York Islanders.
Just four seconds after Los Angeles was penalized for having too many men on the ice, Whitney one-timed a slap shot from the left faceoff circle past goaltender Jamie Storr to tie it.
Marshall started the play on the go-ahead goal, carrying into the Kings’ zone and feeding Sillinger in the high slot. Sillinger sent a backhanded pass to Whitney, who let go another one-timer from the top of the left circle and put it over Storr’s outstretched right pad.
“The first two goals were the result of good plays by Mike Sillinger,” Whitney said. “A big faceoff win and then a good three-way play on the second one. Our line played well.”
“I couldn’t believe that was his first hat trick,” Sillinger said. “He has had a couple of 30-goal seasons and, let’s face it, he’s a pure goal-scorer. He’s always around the puck.”
Denis stopped 15 shots in the second period and 14 in the third before Whitney got the puck alone in the slot and hit the empty net.
“The effort was there, the sacrifice was there,” Denis said. “We saw guys diving tonight, blocking shots. Penalty-killing was back to where it’s supposed to be just by effort. They got a fluky bounce to get this game going, but that was the end of it.”
The Blue Jackets have won the last four meetings with the Kings dating to a 2-0 road triumph on March 2, 2002.
Storr stopped 26 shots.