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NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 07: Scott Hartnell #17 of the Nashville Predators congratulates teammate Filip Forsberg #9 on a hat trick during the third period of a 4-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena on April 7, 2018 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

After easing into the Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule with three games Wednesday, the NHL goes full steam ahead with a quintet of series-opening clashes Thursday.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, who fought until the final day of the regular season for the Atlantic Division title, start their respective paths to a head-on collision in the second round.

Washington and Nashville enter the postseason with a ton of fanfare once again, but they face difficult matchups against divisional foes.

Thursday concludes with the California clash between San Jose and Anaheim, with both teams eyeing up a series with Vegas in the second round.

Thursday’s Stanley Cup Playoffs Schedule (All Times ET)

Game 1: New Jersey at Tampa Bay (7 p.m., NHL Network)

Game 1: Toronto at Boston (7 p.m., NBCSN)

Game 1: Columbus at Washington (7:30 p.m., USA)

Game 1: Colorado at Nashville (9:30 p.m., NBCSN)

Game 1: San Jose at Anaheim (10:30 p.m., USA)

All games can be live-streamed on the NBC Sports App. 

Grubauer Earns Start in Net For Washington

Braden Holtby is the experienced goalie on the Washington roster, but Philipp Grubauer is in better form entering the postseason.

Ahead of the Game 1 clash at the Verizon Center against Columbus, Grubauer was named the team’s starter in net, per the Capitals’ official Twitter account:

Since the start of March, Grubauer conceded 23 goals and recorded a pair of shutouts, while Holtby let in 21 goals in two fewer games.

When it comes to the postseason, you have to trust the hot hand in net, and that’s exactly what Washington is doing.

In the eight games he played over the last six weeks, Holtby let in at least two goals in every contest, a record that can’t be trusted in the playoffs.

The one concern surrounding Grubauer is he allowed four goals to Montreal and Nashville in his last four appearances, but that was balanced out by holding Pittsburgh to one tally.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: Philipp Grubauer #31 of the Washington Capitals makes the first period save against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 15, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Washington head coach Barry Trotz admitted the decision to start Grubauer wasn’t an easy one, but the German is deserving of the honor, per Chase Pyke of WashingtonCaps.com.

“I just think that Grubi deserves the opportunity,” Trotz said. “I think his body of work, especially this year, presented itself. Trust me, it wasn’t an easy decision.”

Holtby started all four of the regular-season meetings with Columbus, as he let in 11 goals, including four in the last game between the two sides February 26.

Grubauer might not have on-ice familiarity with the Blue Jackets’ attack, but he’ll enter prepared from what he’s seen on film, and he comes in with a wealth of confidence, which is exactly what coaches want out of their players this time of year.

Nashville Starts Road Back to Stanley Cup Final

A year ago, the Nashville Predators were the surprising upstart team that captured the hearts of sports fans with their run to the Stanley Cup Final.

As they come into Thursday, the Predators are the established favorite as Presidents’ Trophy champion.

Nashville faces an opponent in Colorado that is similar in a sense to its postseason status in 2017, as the Avalanche enter as a massive underdog, just like the Predators did against the Chicago Blackhawks.

However, it is going to be hard for Colorado to silence a Nashville team on a mission to get back to the championship series and conquer whichever Eastern Conference foe awaits them.

Despite achieving a new level of success, the Predators are coming into Thursday with the same mindset that brought them plenty of results in 2017, per Brooks Bratten of team’s official website.

NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 07: NHL Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly presents the President's Trophy to the Nashville Predators prior to their final regular season game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena on April 7, 2018 in Nashville, Tenne

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

“We have to go with the same mindset we did last year,” Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “Whether you’re at the top or the bottom, both teams have a chance to win at any given point. I think we have to go into it with something to prove, play desperate and play hungry. We want to get back to where we were last year.”

Nashville carries a deep attack, with six players earning 50 or more points in the regular season, including Filip Forsberg, who had 26 goals and 38 assists.

The Predators have reason to believe they will face an easy series against Colorado, as they won all four regular-season meetings, including a pair of wins in March.

If Nashville continues its dominant style of play into Game 1, it is going to have no problem dealing with Colorado’s top-heavy attack led by Nathan MacKinnon.

Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.

Statistics obtained from NHL.com.

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