2024 PWHL Playoff Preview: Odds, Picks & Predictions for Toronto vs Minnesota, Montreal vs Boston

2024 PWHL Playoff Preview: Odds, Picks & Predictions for Toronto vs Minnesota, Montreal vs Boston article feature image

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The postseason is here, and this is Jim Turvey's 2024 PWHL Playoff Preview with odds, picks & predictions for both series.

The Professional Women’s Hockey League's inaugural regular season wrapped on Sunday. The last playoff spot literally came down to the last period of the final game as a desperate Ottawa side couldn’t get over the finish line against a Toronto side that, theoretically, had nothing to play for.

The PWHL playoffs now gets immediately underway – with the first round starting tonight, Wednesday, May 8.

The incredibly spicy extra flair to this postseason is that top-seeded Toronto got to select its opponent for Round 1. Talk about bulletin-board material!

Toronto chose Minnesota while Montreal had to settle for Boston – with Toronto seemingly weighing recency in its selection; Boston came charging down the stretch while Minnesota limped into the postseason.

With games underway in just a few hours (7 p.m. ET on YouTube TV in the U.S.), let’s get right into previews of both series along with a lookahead to potential matchups to see who lifts the first-ever Walter Cup.

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PWHL Playoff Preview: Odds, Picks & Predictions

Toronto vs. Minnesota

Game 1: Tonight, 7 p.m. ET (YouTube)

From a neutral perspective, Toronto picking the No. 4 seed shouldn’t have given Minnesota too much pause.

“They obviously picked us for reasons that, you know, they think we’re not as good, they think they can beat us. I think we’re really going to take that to heart. It’s going to come with a lot of animosity from us, I think.”

That’s what Minnesot’s star player and hometown rookie Taylor Heise told SportsNet on Tuesday, so yeah, I’d say this format is already a success.

How much to weigh that added motivational edge is a whole 'nother question, though. Personally, I am not likely to weigh it much in my betting handicap (though, I also wouldn’t say it has zero impact). What I am more interested when it comes to Minnesota is that they were actually the better team of the possible selections by goal differential if we looked at the season as a whole.

In fact, Minnesota was the best team out of the gates in the PWHL, and as recently as when they were heading into the international break in April, they looked to be the team basically on par with Toronto atop the standings.

However, it has been a precipitous fall since with Minnesota losing all five of its games after the break – and clinching the playoffs only because Ottawa couldn’t win on the final day.

Now, though, Minnesota gets a chance to reset, and bettors get to ask: Was there any real reason for that five-game decline, or is it possible that Toronto is going to regret picking the opponent with the better full season resume because of some recency bias?

Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic has a playoff model that makes this series 61-39 in favor of Toronto. The market pretty much matches that: Toronto -200 (66.7% implied) and Minnesota +140 (41.7% implied). The vig basically robs the value of both sides if you’re going off Dom’s model.

I was honestly hoping we’d get a little longer than +140 on the series line for Minnesota, as I do think they are live. The biggest key may well be special teams. As Hailey Salvian pointed out in her excellent preview of the series, during this five-game slide, Minnesota both went 1-for-15 on the power play and somehow killed off only 5-of-14 penalties([). Neither of those numbers seems stable, and they scream bad luck to me.

Toronto, for all its strengths, also doesn’t have an elite power-play unit. The unit ranks fourth in the league (out of just six teams, remember), and though no team has figured out how to even so much as slow down Natalie Spooner (her 20 goals led the league by a margin of nine!), it also means a cold stretch from their megastar could make them more susceptible to variance in this five-game series.

Finally, when these two teams played just a week ago, Minnesota was only +126 on the moneyline. Now, Toronto did win that game 4-1, and this will be in front of a raucous playoff crowd. But I think both the market – and Toronto players themselves – may be overweighing recency in this case, and Minnesota is live to surprise some folks.

If you tailed my Toronto future in the app, you might be surprised to see me leaning Minnesota here – but it’s all about the numbers we get, right? I’m going to get a little greedy. I think Minnesota could definitely go in and steal Game 1, while Toronto could still come back to win the series and the whole title.

Give me Minnesota +155 on the Game 1 moneyline, but I’ll lay off the series price for now.

The Pick: Minnesota in Game 1 (+150)

Montreal vs Boston

Game 1: Tonight, 7 p.m. ET (YouTube)

On the other side of the bracket, Montreal plays host to Boston in a battle of the two teams that arguably came into the season as favorites.

For a few months, that tag looked especially sketchy when it came to Boston, a team that was definitely considered the top one after the draft. The team won four of its first six games but then really hit the skids, dropping nine of 13 in the months of February and March, before steadying the ship after the international break with four wins in five down the stretch to clinch a playoff spot.

Montreal, on the other hand, was far steadier at the wheel, never losing – nor winning – more than three games in a row all season while basically maintaining a top seed all year.

Montreal does, however, face a pair of incredibly interesting questions that bettors will want to know the answer to before attacking this series (though it might not be possible).

First off: Who starts in net? Montreal starting goalie, Ann-Renee Desbiens, is one of the biggest names in the sport with numerous big-name wins to her name in international hockey. At the same time, her backup, Elaine Chull, actually has the best stats of any goalie in the league this year, and by a decent margin. Montreal also had a far better record with Chull in net, and the team was actually around a .500 club with Desbiens starting.

Will Montreal feel pressure to start their big-name goalie basically every game of the postseason? Will it actually hurt them, or does her big-game experience actually make her the right choice? I don’t think there’s an easy answer.

The other big question is which round they choose to activate Meoldie Daoust. You read that right. A key player for Montreal gets to play in only one of the two potential series for Montreal. Basically, Montreal has one more 10-day contract to sign her to, so they will have to decide if they want to try to take out Boston without her, or pull the ripcord early to try to make sure they even get to a potential championship round where they could use her if they don’t activate her in this series.

It carries even more weight since Montreal has one of the less-balanced attacks in the playoffs. Marie-Philip Poulin may well be the best player in the world – and the top line looks great because of it – but if Boston can even slow down the line, this is going to be a really interesting series.

I also just get a feeling that Hilary Knight has been holding a little something back for the postseason. She got off to a super slow start to the season, but she had four points in the final three games as Boston made their push to make the playoffs, and if they can get the level of play she has shown in the past, it’s another reason to like Boston.

All that being said, the market is once again basically in line with Dom’s model (not surprising since I think many folks betting this league are readers of his): Luszczyszyn has Montreal 59% for the series while the betting market has them -133 (57% implied), with Boston at -105 (51% implied compared to 41% on the model).

The model that Calvin Wetzel and I work off of also shows a bit of value on Montreal, but when accounting for the the team's goalie situation, as well as the Knight factor, I can’t quite get there. So I’m going to sit out Game 1 and look for times to be on Montreal if either they fall behind in the series, or if the goalie situation clears via one of two routes: Desbiens playing well, or Chull getting the start.

The Pick: Pass for now (but keep an eye on Montreal)

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Potential PWHL Finals Matchups

Honestly, basically every iteration holds some intrigue for this postseason format.

The dream matchup is obviously the two favorites winning and us getting Toronto vs. Montreal for the Walter Cup. It’s hard to say without a set number, but I think I would lean to Toronto, who has had Montreal’s number a bit this year.

However, Boston’s U.S.-heavy roster would make for a fun matchup with the Team Canada-heavy Toronto side. Minnesota is maybe the least intriguing storyline-wise, but the arrival of Heise, the rookie megastar, getting to the finals in her first year in the league would be pretty awesome to see.

Plus, either of the U.S.-based teams vs. Canada-based teams is going to have a touch of that rivalry since these teams did end up skewing a bit more local than your standard professional league (which I actually think is a feature, not a bug).

Either way, it should be a fun next few weeks as we play it all out to find out who becomes the first team to win the inaugural Walter Cup.

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