Washington Capitals center Michael Latta will make his playoff debut against the New York Islanders on Wednesday, and the 23-year-old couldn’t be more excited about it.
“Yeah, that’s going to be cool,” Latta said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Anytime you get to the playoffs, it’s the most exciting time of year. It’s tough to get here. I’m just really excited. The intensity picks up. I watched the NHL playoffs all my life, and it’s just an incredible game – the passion, the intensity and just how hard the games are played. The different stories of each team and each players kind of get made every year in the (playoffs). I’m really looking forward to it.”
The Capitals, who missed the playoffs last season, host the Islanders at 7 p.m. ET.
“You can tell how ready everyone is, especially since we missed it last year,” Latta said.
It’s debatable whether home-ice advantage actually matters in the playoffs, but Latta and the Caps will take any advantage they can get – even though they were almost identical at home (23-13-5) and on the road (22-13-6) this season.
“It’s nice,” Latta said. “It’s just nice that you don’t have to travel. You just get that little edge. Another thing the guys have told me is the Verizon Center is just crazy when it gets to playoffs. That’s one more thing I’m really looking forward to. (It’s crazy) in the regular season, so I can’t imagine how playoffs will be. Just having your home crowd behind you, your own bed to sleep in, your own wives and family in town . . . it’s just the little things that add up in (the) playoffs, and it’s one advantage we have.”
Washington also has the advantage in goal. Braden Holtby played a league-high 73 games for the Capitals this season and allowed a career-low 2.22 goals per game (minimum 15 games). Yes, the 25-year-old has certainly been a workhorse – and arguably the Caps’ most valuable player.
“It’s huge (having him back there),” Latta said. “Holtby came into this season and really took it by storm. He (got an opportunity) and didn’t let it go for a second. It’s really exciting for us to just know that (he can cover our mistakes). It’s so nice to have him there behind you knowing that he’ll bail you out one or two or three times. Hopefully (he doesn’t have to), but it’s nice to know that he’s there. He can handle (the playoff) workload. You need him to be focused and mentally in good shape, and he’s proven he can do that over the (course) of the season.”
As we’ve seen time and time again, a hot goaltender can be the difference between a first-round exit and a Stanley Cup championship. Holtby may be young, but he has the confidence of his teammates.
“Absolutely,” Latta said. “I’ve never seen a more focused individual, whether it’s practice or games. He’s my stall mate at the home rink. It’s just crazy to see his focus and his intensity. Every night, you know you can count on him.”
The Capitals are also counting on Alex Ovechkin, who has led the league in scoring for the last three seasons. Still, there are questions as to whether the 29-year-old Russian – considered by many the top player in the world – can lead a team to a Stanley Cup championship.
Latta doesn’t doubt Ovechkin for a second.
“He’s a different player this year than he was in the past,” Latta said. “He wants to win a Stanley Cup. That’s his main goal. He’s won all the other stuff. He’s been almost unstoppable this year. Nobody can score goals like he does. It’s exciting. He’s very excited to be back in the dance again.”