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2017 Calder Trophy finalists: Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, Zach Werenski

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The NHL has announced the finalists for the 2017 Calder Trophy, given to the league’s top rookie.

Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets were named finalists for the award.

Laine and Matthews were obvious choices given their exciting penchant for scoring, but there were several young players — William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho to name a few — that could’ve easily been named the third finalist. Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association submitted their votes at the end of the regular season.

Matthews and Laine went No. 1 and No. 2 overall in last year’s draft, prompting incredible anticipation around the league for what they could accomplish this season. And they didn’t disappoint.

Matthews, 19, led all rookies in scoring, with 40 goals and 69 points, helping the Maple Leafs to a playoff position. His NHL career began with a record-setting debut and he continued to delight from there. He finished tied for second overall in goal scoring alongside Nikita Kucherov. Matthews ended the season only four goals behind Sidney Crosby, this year’s Rocket Richard Trophy winner.

Laine, who just turned 19 years old on Wednesday, finished fifth in overall goal scoring and second in rookie goal scoring. He tallied 36 goals, showing off an incredibly accurate and quick wrist shot. He also had 64 points, second behind Matthews in the rookie race.

Werenski, also 19 years old, had an impressive rookie season on defense for the Blue Jackets. He had 47 points in 78 games, averaging almost 21 minutes of ice time per game. His freshman campaign bodes well for the future in Columbus, especially since he plays such a difficult position for younger players in the league. Not only did he play, but he often excelled. Unfortunately, he suffered a facial fracture in Game 3 of the Blue Jackets’ first-round series with Pittsburgh, ending his season.

The winner will be announced June 21 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

VIDEO: Braden Holtby prevents breakaway with diving play near blue line

When goalies leave their crease to go after a loose puck bad things can happen.

They can misplay the puck. They can turn it over. They can lose the race. They can get caught out of position.

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby has no time for any of those concerns, and demonstrated his fearless demeanor in the second period on Monday night.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs: Game 4 on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, NBC Sports app)

Just as the Maple Leafs were successfully killing off a 5-on-3 situation, Mitch Marner seemed to have a clear path to picking up a loose puck just inside the Capitals blue line for what would have been a breakaway.

That is, until Holtby came flying out nowhere, sliding across the ice, and just managing to get his stick on the puck to knock it away from Marner, not only preventing a breakaway, but also narrowly avoiding what could have been a disastrous result for he and the Capitals.

At that point the Capitals were holding onto a 3-1 lead, but it would not last.

Thanks to a pair of Maple Leafs goals late in the second period the two teams went into the break tied at three. So while Holtby’s gamble paid off on the short-term, it still was not enough to help the Capitals maintain their lead.

Holy Kapanen: Leafs beat Caps in double-OT thriller

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Kasperi Kapanen hasn’t been played many games for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he’s wasting no time in providing big goals.

Brian Boyle made up for an anxiety-inducing penalty in the first overtime by sending an obscenely nice pass to Kapanen, who scored the 4-3 double-overtime-winner to tie Toronto’s series with the Washington Capitals at 1-1.

Kapanen’s first NHL goal was a tally that helped the Maple Leafs clinch a playoff spot, yet he notched an even bigger one just a bit more than a week later. He ended up with two goals overall on Saturday, so you can bet that this will be a night he’ll never forget.

Watch Capitals vs. Maple Leafs on NBC Sports

Now the series shifts to Toronto all knotted up.

The Maple Leafs managed 1-0 and 3-2 leads in this game, trading punches with Washington (especially early on). Naysayers will no-doubt critique their struggles in protecting leads, especially when you consider that Nicklas Backstrom‘s game-tying goal involved 78 seconds of zone time for the Capitals.

As you would expect, it was a nervy affair in the first overtime, with both teams receiving power-play opportunities. The best chance almost certainly came after a power play, however, as Alex Ovechkin almost scored a breakaway goal after exiting the penalty box.

Mitch Marner‘s backchecking effort was big then and even bigger with the hindsight of this win.

The kids are indeed alright, and they’re currently making life very difficult for the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners.

Video: Anxious start for Capitals, as Mitch Marner opens scoring for Maple Leafs

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The young and inexperienced Toronto Maple Leafs certainly don’t look intimidated by the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals — at least through the first half of the opening period in Game 1.

The Maple Leafs had the perfect start on the road.

Mitch Marner opened the scoring with his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal just 1:35 into the game, silencing the Capitals crowd.

A perfect start for the visitors has meant an anxious start for the Capitals, the Stanley Cup favorites, who have been guilty of some bad turnovers through 10 minutes in the first period.

The Maple Leafs went up 2-0 at the 9:44 mark of the period. Jake Gardiner beat Braden Holtby with a shot, but the goal was at first waved off due to goalie interference. The call was eventually overturned after a review.

Credit Leafs’ (slightly) older players for playoff run, too

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Much of the focus regarding the Toronto Maple Leafs’ run to a playoff spot revolves around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Failing that, people fawn over the job Mike Babcock’s done integrating those new pieces.

But … let’s take a moment to give some other key, not-quite-as-young figures some credit, too.

Stream Leafs vs. Capitals on NBC Sports

The easiest way to illustrate this mix of new and near-new is to look at the ages and point totals of the Maple Leafs’ top 10 scorers:

1. Auston Matthews – 19 years old, 69 points
2. James van Riemsdyk – 27, 62 points
3. Nazem Kadri – 26, 61 points
3. William Nylander – 20, 61 points
3. Mitch Marner – 19, 61 points
6. Tyler Bozak – 30, 55 points
7. Jake Gardiner – 26, 43 points
8. Connor Brown – 23, 36 points
8. Nikita Zaitsev 25, 36 points
10. Leo Komarov – 30, 32 points

Again, there’s nothing wrong with highlighting the Buds’ ridiculous bounty of rookie difference-makers.

There’s a feel-good story to long-suffering Leafs such as JVR, Kadri and Bozak enjoying some glory. It doesn’t seem like we need to #FreeJakeGardiner any longer.